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Character really does matter. Duty, Honor and Country are serious core principles. Integrity, ethics, and moral fiber have been regarded as central to the essence of leadership. At least, those are things I was taught as a young officer.

It has been fascinating to hear the equivocating drivel drooling out of the mouths of network talking heads, and dripping off the pages of newsprint. More and more we hear “what our elected officials do privately is their business.” That is apparently the new standard. However, Gary Hart, Bob Packwood, John Tower and Clarence Thomas never got that memo. This new standard for acceptance of moral turpitude seems reserved for the current New World Order poster child.

I recently received an e-mail referencing me to an old textbook about the life of George Washington (M.L. Weems, “The Life of George Washington,” Philadelphia: Joseph Allen, 1800). Reportedly, it was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln. There are a couple of passages that are significant in considering this asinine fallacy of ignoring the private life of elected officials.

“Public character … is no evidence of true greatness, for a public character is often an artificial one.” I have often paraphrased the concept in discussing the difference of form over substance, or perception as opposed to reality.

The textbook presents the example of Benedict Arnold to illustrate the point. The perception of Benedict Arnold was the form of his public capacity. Arnold was a general in the American Army. He was an early war hero in the American Revolution, and a leader in the pivotal battle of Saratoga in 1777. However, during the same time Benedict Arnold was publicly strutting his stuff as a grand American patriot, the substance and reality of his character was revealed in his private life. Arnold was, beyond the glare of public scrutiny, embezzling supplies destined for the starving, dying troops (the real patriots) at Valley Forge. He was pocketing the profits made from the illegal sales of these desperately needed supplies, and was in the process of betraying West Point to the enemy. Benedict Arnold was a traitor to the nation … a disingenuous, duplicitous, sleazy dirtbag. Was his private (real) life a more accurate indicator of true character?

According to the 198-year-old textbook, “… It is not then, in the glare of public, but in the shade of private life, that we are to look for the man. Private life, is always real life. Behind the curtain, where the eyes of the million are not upon him. … There he will always be sure to act himself: consequently, if he acts greatly (in private), he must be great indeed. Hence it has been justly said, that, ‘our private deeds, if noble, are noblest of our lives.’ … It is the private virtues that lay the foundation of all human excellence.”

It is indeed frustrating and annoying to see and hear the spin and rationalization for the beleaguered President. Poor Bill … why doesn’t everyone just let him get on with the business of running the country? So what if he has the morals of a goat? After all, he’s our goat.

While watching the network nabobs commence with the rehabilitation of the first prevaricator, I recalled the words of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (foreign agent for the right-wing conspiracy to undermine the administration): “The American elite, I am afraid to say, is almost beyond redemption. Moral relativism has set in so deeply that the gilded classes have become incapable of discerning right from wrong. Everything can be explained away, especially by journalists. Life is one great moral mush — sophistry washed down with Chardonnay.” Prophetic ain’t it?

Evans-Pritchard concludes his controversial book “The Secret Life of Bill Clinton” by quoting Clinton’s August 1992 speech in Atlanta at the Democratic Convention. Bill said: “We have seen the folks in Washington turn the American ethic on its head. For too long, those who play by the rules and keep the faith have gotten the shaft. And those who cut corners and cut deals have been rewarded.” Give the devil his due. Clinton was right in 1992, and he is proving it in 1998.

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