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Mon Dec 11, 2017, 05:40 PM

What is "Moral Character" and How Important Is It?

Disclaimer: This is a 'thinking about it' bit of writing that reflects the current state of my opinions, and (perhaps to some extent) their evolution over time.

When I wasn't old enough to vote yet, "scandal" had two different definitions: In the case of Democrats, it usually involved some form of illicit fornication, and in the GOP, it usually involved some form of financial chicanery.

Or, as one uncle used to put it: "Democrats are horndogs and Republicans are thieves."

My, those were simpler days, weren't they?

Both sides used to use the term "moral character" to explain the sins of the Other Side, and justify why no one should vote for their sinners.

The argument from the GOP side went something like this: "If a man (it was almost always men, back then) can't be faithful to his marriage vows, you can't trust him to keep ANY of his promises. He's a sleazy hack who'll do whatever pleases him, regardless of the welfare of the citizens."

The Democratic argument was along these lines: "If a man (see above) will take bribes or route contracts to family members, he's obviously out for what he can get. He's a dishonest hack who'll always put his/his family's/his donors' pocketbook above the welfare of the citizens."

Each side also had its response to those arguments: The Dems basically saying that personal sexual pecadillos don't necessarily reflect on honesty in public service or dedication to the citizens' good, and the GOPpies essentially saying "but at least he's a good husband and regular churchgoer and doesn't that prove he's basically got moral character which of course the Democrats don't?"

And the term "moral character" gets tossed indiscriminately around with a fervor that would lead anyone to believe there's an agreed-upon definition of a measurable quality, here.

But there ain't.

Moral character is a real quality. And an important one, to many of us.

But "measurable?"

Who's measuring, with what tool?

"Agreed-upon definition?" Hahahahahahahahah!! It's to laugh.

Here's what I know about moral character:

Unlike what all too many American voters seem to think it doesn't equate to "moral purity", in part because there ain't no such thing in the human race, to date (barring various Divine-Avatars-Manifesting-As-Human claimed by religious believers).

We all love heroes and we certainly all seem to want to vote for them. But there's the problem: If a hero's image can be tarnished, it will be, and there goes her/his "moral character".

Because apparently we've left out some key elements of a workable definition of "moral character".

Like "learns from their mistakes". And "evolves as new information and experiences occur". And "humility". And "willingness to admit they're wrong, and change". Among other elements.

I'm quite annoyed with a good many Democratic elected officials right now, for obvious reasons. But I don't necessarily equate that with lack of, or loss of, moral character.

I equate it with "making mistakes" which is human.

At some point, those elected officials may evaluate the larger picture of information flooding in, the ongoing experiences happening to them, and say, "Well, I made a mistake, and I regret it. Here's what I've learned, and here's the standard I'll try to live up to in the future."

And of course, they'll promptly get primaried and/or voted out of office, not to mention roundly trashed on social media, because all too many voters are still using the "moral character = moral purity".

Even legislators I like very much don't agree with me on every issue. Yes, I have a "hard line" or two, but I don't expect everyone to share them. It's an assessment of the whole that really matters. And, yes... that includes moral character, the way I understand it.

I've voted knowingly for candidates whose moral character seemed a bit lacking to me. But I have not, and will not, vote for a candidate who exhibits no moral character at all.

I don't live in Alabama, though.

wearily,
Bright

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Reply What is "Moral Character" and How Important Is It? (Original post)
TygrBright Dec 2017 OP
mr_liberal Dec 2017 #1
frazzled Dec 2017 #2
underthematrix Dec 2017 #3
alarimer Dec 2017 #4

Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 05:43 PM

1. I dont care about moral character.

 

I vote on the issues.

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:09 PM

2. "Character," not necessarily moral character, is important to me in voting

Morality is a squishy term, and we all have our own boundaries and definitions. For me, having an adulterous (consensual) affair? I don't care all that much. That's an issue between the congressperson and their spouse. Using one's power to abuse women, especially in the workplace? That's a big no no to me—I won't vote for that.

But character goes far beyond such issues of morality (especially private, not public sexual behavior). It of course demands a good degree of financial propriety; it includes honesty, treatment of others, and the kinds of issues the candidate has held to over the years, giving latitude for alterations due to societal changes. I always look back at candidates for consistency in their character over many years—have they devoted time to public service or worked in some way for the public interest? Have they maintained a good record? I don't care what they say they are for against when it comes time to campaign—promises, promises, as they say. I like to look deep into a candidates whole biography, the lives they have lived. And then I decide if they have shown good character. I look at that before I start looking at details of what they are campaigning on. Others' mileage may differ.

To me, Barack Obama was a paragon of "character" on both the personal and public level, beyond at least any president I have known in my lifetime. I looked back at his writings as a young man and saw the consistency in his attitudes and demeanor (not necessarily policy details). I sensed that because he was raised by a single mother and grandmother and had a strong wife and two daughters, that this was a man who respected women. I saw his deep thinking, his calm, his patience, and his pragmatism--all the while fighting to make steps toward his ideals. That's what I call character.

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:59 PM

3. This a great OP. As you said it's a thinking piece and I like that.

Me and my husband started a tradition when we first got married. We would review all candidates for three factors - educational background, pubic service history and ethical history.

From our perspective the most decisive factor is the candidate's ethical history. In the US Senate race for Boxer's seat. One candidate had a strong ethical history with no drama while the other candidate had a history of ethical challenges. For example, a staff was charged with embezzlement which left the candidate with no funds to pay office staff. There was an ethics investigation into a the staff sharing arrangement she and her sister, a fellow House member established to cover staffing costs. There were some issues with failure to provide full disclosure of financial history. And there were rumors about transitioning from the first to the second husband. Then there was the racial slur mocking Native Americans which I saw as a lack of self control and inability to modulate her speech to reflect the difference between running for a district versus running for a statewide office.

Why do these sort of issues matter? They matter because they can interfere with the candidate's capacity to serve the public interest. I won't vote for someone who is ethically challenged. They would just create a lot more drama once they took office.

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 07:05 PM

4. I go by how much and how often a person declares their devoutness.

Especially (but not limited to) Christianity. The most devout almost always turn out to be the lyingest, cheatingest scum on the face of the earth. Take Roy Moore for example. Yuck.

You can almost count on self-proclaimed devout Christian who are bigoted against gays or Muslims or whatever turning out to have major moral failings.

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