ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

IT'S ALL ABOUT CHARACTER

My daughter, Beth, is voting in her first presidential election this year. It’s an opportunity – and a responsibility – that she takes very seriously.

She’s been studying the candidates and their respective positions on critical issues. She’s been perusing newspapers and news magazines, looking for the latest information on who is saying what. She looked forward to the recent presidential and vice presidential debates with the same fervor and anticipation that she usually reserves for fiction novels about vampires, and she was anxious to compare post-debate notes with everyone.

Unfortunately, few of her associates are as motivated in this direction as she is. When she tries to engage them in political discussion, most make jokes about “weak” candidates and “bad” choices. When she presses them about why they feel that way, they shrug their shoulders and admit that they haven’t really looked that carefully at the candidates – and don’t really intend to.

“I don't understand it,” Beth said the other day. “My friends admit that they aren’t very well informed, but they aren’t doing anything to GET informed. They didn’t even watch the debates. Can you believe that?”

“Debates?” I asked. “What debates?”

OK, so maybe I’m not as politically aware this year as I should be. I think I’ve earned the right to be a little jaded. In my first presidential election I hopped on the Nixon bandwagon with both feet. “It’s all about character,” I told young people in my area. And I was persuasive enough to convince many to vote for him. I heard from a few of them after Nixon resigned. One even returned his “Nixon's the One!” pin. It’s still around here somewhere – I’m not sure where.

During the next election year I decided to stay away from presidential politics. Instead, I went to work full-time on the gubernatorial campaign of a man I had known most of my life. “It's all about character,” I told people throughout the northern part of our state. And I really believed it. He was a good, honorable man who had proven his ability through years of dedicated public service in the state legislature. He would have been a fine governor. But we never made it out of the primaries. Turns out voters didn’t like my candidate’s hair.

Or lack of it.

I gave it another shot about 10 years ago. There was this extraordinary lady in our area who was willing to run for the state legislature. She was bright, articulate and full of energy and great ideas. More important, she was a person of sterling character. “And of course,” I told my friends and neighbors, “it’s all about character.” And it would have been, too, if she had belonged to the “correct” political party. But she didn't, so she lost.

Big.

Beth listened to me patiently as I explained all of this. And she seemed to understand my disenchantment. She had only one question: “Do you still believe in the system?”

I’ve thought about that a lot the past few days, as campaign rhetoric builds for the frenzied sprint to early November. While there are plenty of reasons for voter apathy or mistrust, it really all comes down to that one question: do we believe in the process or not? If we believe in democracy, then we really have no excuse for not taking the time these last few weeks to get informed and become active in the political process. Because when it comes right down to it, it really is all about character.

Ours.

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— © Joseph Walker

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