In Saturday night’s GOP debate candidates answered the question, “Should voters consider marital fidelity in making their choices for president?”
You can watch their answers here:
They are, for the most part, unrevealing. Each candidate tries to express that values and character matters (i.e., so please don’t vote for Gingrich) but still not set up a marriage or fidelity test for the highest office in the land (which might remove the once divorced President Reagan from hero status).
This likely reflects the beliefs of many Americans. Character matters but we don’t want those standards strictly codified. Still, it would have been interesting to hear the candidates go a little bit deeper.
Congressman Paul didn’t differ from that formula substantially but added an additional important point:
You know, I think character is, obviously– very important. I– I don’t think it should be necessary to have to talk about it. I think it should show through in the way we live... Because there’s many times that I have been forced to Congress because I take my oath very seriously. I am up sometimes, believe it or not, voting all by myself (CHUCKLE) thinking that, “Why aren’t there people paying att– why don’t they read Article One, Section Eight?” You know, if — if we took that oath of office seriously in Washington, we’d get rid of 80 percent of the government.
Hearing Paul’s consistency, even when that puts him at odds with the GOP base, is always refreshing and I would say, a sign of good character. It doesn’t necessarily make him right but at least you know what he believes in.
Other candidates spent the night attacking health care reform for being the start of a single payer system and for raising the specter of an individual mandate while simultaneously attacking saving 500 million in spending from Medicare (a single payer system with individual mandates for seniors). Still others had to explain why they are for every tax cut except when it’s the pay roll tax-cut championed by Democrats.
The question of moral character and how it plays into public life has tended to be fairly low level conversation in our country. It’s subjects of discussion are usually those who we aren’t planning on voting for.
This is why it’s hard to trust what most commentators, religious leaders or politicians are saying right now. Things said in this moment might have more to do with which party or candidate they are planning on voting for than serious thinking about moral character and public life.
For context and perspective, I recommend reading a column co-written by Jim Wallis and Wes Granberg-Michaelson. It appeared in Sojourners magazine in the 1999 May-June edition and dealt with the Clinton sex scandal. You can read the full column here.
We have a "successful" example of leadership that has skillfully segregated public policy from personal integrity. Morality in politics, especially for many Democrats, is defined only according to the pragmatic effectiveness of policies. Conversely, for many Republicans morality is focused exclusively on personal behavior, with blindness to the sins of social injustice.
This will not work. Christians should be the first to say so. A firewall between the personal and public dimensions of our lives is a secular fiction. And it is dangerous to both people and politics. Christian faith nurtures a healthy congruity between one’s inner and outer life. Its understanding of sin, and vision of wholeness, weaves together the social and the personal. Any discerning ethic of leadership does the same....
We doubt whether the nation has learned these lessons from this crisis.
We fear that the opposite lessons have been further entrenched. If that is true, the damage we have suffered will far outlast Bill Clinton’s waning political career. But if we could take stock and see what has happened to us, the moment could still become redemptive.
Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.