[I’m terribly weary this morning. I’m looking forward dourly at the day, which promises to be filled with feces of several sorts. I don’t much feel like ranting about any of the topics currently in the news. Accordingly, I went to the archives for something to regurgitate, and found the following piece, which first appeared at the old Palace of Reason on August 8, 2004. If you remember the 2004 presidential campaign at all, perhaps you’ll see some relevance to that of 2016. -- FWP]
The Swifties annoyed the press because they bypassed them. They ran an ad that the press could not ignore, and they aren't part of a campaign. Even worse, the ad is extremely powerful, and it addresses the character of a candidate. They didn't play by the rules, and as a result those to whom politics is a big game, with citizens not allowed, condemned their efforts.
Apparently only "issues" are valid subjects. The idea that a person of bad character is unlikely to carry out his issues promises is ignored. The idea that a person of bad character shouldn't be president never occurs to our media betters. Thus the subject of character is apparently banned from our political discourse.
That's certainly the way the political Establishment, the Old Media and the cultural "glitterati" would have it. Those powers have held hegemony over America's political choices for half a century. They reserve to themselves the privilege of forming our attitudes and sculpting our perceptions of the candidates they allow us.
"Allow us"? Did I actually write that? Why, yes. Think about the process by which the major parties -- and let's be candid here, Palace readers; the minor parties don't really count for much on Election Day, except in the most unusual of cases -- select the men who will run on their tickets. Just how much influence do ordinary Americans have over the results of that process?
Do you suppose that ordinary Americans would have selected:
- Adlai Stevenson as the Democratic candidate in 1952 and 1956?
- Lyndon Johnson as the Democratic candidate in 1964?
- Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate in 1968?
- George McGovern as the Democratic candidate in 1972?
- Walter Mondale as the Democratic candidate in 1984?
- George H. W. Bush as the Republican candidate in 1988?
- Michael Dukakis as the Democratic candidate in 1988?
- Bill Clinton as the Democratic candidate in 1992?
- Bob Dole as the Republican candidate in 1996?
- Al Gore as the Democratic candidate in 2000?
...or, God help us all, John Kerry as the Democratic candidate this year?
Each of the above names belongs to a man with fatal character flaws: megalomania, or venality, or sexual obsession, or mendacity, or a deficit of conviction, or an excessive desire to be liked, or all those and more. Yet they were presented to us, the voters, as the best their parties could offer.
George W. Bush is a marvelous exception to the pattern of the half-century behind us. Whether you agree with his policy preferences or not, you can be confident that he'll speak his mind honestly, and that he'll do his best to act on his true convictions. Even he, now and then, will yield to political considerations, as for example when he decided to de-emphasize the privatization of Social Security two years ago. But he has not yet had to retract a statement, explain a divergence between his stated convictions and his official deeds, or answer to even a minor substantiated charge of wrongdoing.
Believe it or not, there are forces within the Republican Party that seek to destroy this man. The public likes him personally and trusts him as an executive, a war leader, and a chief of state. Despite what the Old Media have tried to tell you, the overwhelming majority of Americans think he's splendid. We were thrilled when he decided not to be stopped by Franco-German-Russian opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom. We were energized when he asserted that the United States would do "whatever it takes" to defend the freedom and independence of Taiwan. We were inexpressibly proud of him when he told the scrofulous "leaders" of the contemptible and retrogressive NAACP that, despite the departure from "tradition," he would not grovel before them or vainly attempt to curry their favor.
All of this is against The Rules. If you've never seen a copy, I have one here:
The Commandments Of Establishmentarian Politics:
The point is to maintain a particular mindset among ordinary Americans:
- The System is immutable, being ruled and fueled by powers far above us in puissance, and there's no preferable alternative anyway.
- Attempts to change the System will, rather than improving matters, bring about the worst of the available evils.
- The System will infallibly punish those who dare to defy it.
When a genuinely good man such as President Bush reaches high office, the mindset is disturbed. Hey! Lookee here! Someone I'd be willing to have as a neighbor, or even a brother-in-law, is in the Oval Office! Maybe we can do that again -- and to other offices as well!
Nothing shakes the crowned heads of America's kingmakers like a sense of connection between a sitting president and the general public: "Why, he might cease to cater to us and start heeding the cries of the great unwashed! We could lose our seats on the gravy train! This must be stopped at once!"
This occurs despite the essential fidelity of the president to his party's platform, and the existence of issues on which he differs with majority opinion. It's not political technocracy or deep policy analysis. It's about character.
And so we see Republicans, right along with their opponents, deliberately undermine the re-election prospects of a sitting Republican president. We see toads like John McCain and Chuck Hagel advance policy proposals that chill conservatives' blood. We see defections like Jim Jeffords' in 2001. We see the Old Media assail Dubya for having "breached the wall between church and state" because he cited Christ as his favorite philosopher. We see Republicans of stature such as the Dishonorable Senator McCain denounce private ads like those of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, precisely because they remind us that character trumps all. For that is the truth the Establishment cannot allow us to noise about. That is the truth the Establishment must squelch.
But character does trump all. You know it and I know it. The rulers of foreign nations know it, too, which is why they're lining up behind convictionless, principle-free John Kerry, whom they have a much better chance to manipulate.
Character is the one thing no political strategist can conjure out of thin air. The idea is internally contradictory: "Hey, let's make our guy sincere. Let's give him trustworthiness." Sincerity cannot be faked. Fidelity to promises is 100% detectable. Humility before the dictates of reality is either there, or it isn't.
The election is important; forgive me if I've ever suggested otherwise. But more important over the long term is that decent, ordinary Americans dethrone the kingmakers of both parties. We must once again have the chance to choose among candidates all of whom can be trusted to say what they mean and act on it when the opportunity or need arises.
The Rules of the political system must be cast down and replaced by the rules of candor and honorable conduct, as ordinary Americans have understood them for centuries. They're rules of which Washington, Jefferson, and Madison would not have needed to be reminded.