by David Sisler

The Republican Medicare plan will close 700 hospitals. So said the American Hospital Association. Correction, that is what President Bill Clinton said they said. The President was almost immediately informed that he was in error. The American Hospital Association told the President that they had never said the Republican Medicare plan would close 700 hospitals. The facts were incontrovertible. The President was wrong.

A reply made by Billy Graham in a similar circumstance seemed to have been in order (Mr. Graham attributed a remark to scripture and was later shown that he had made a mistake), "I was wrong. I will certainly never make that mistake again."

That is not what the President of the United States said. The White House response? "The President stands by his statement."

It is a lie. I know it is a lie. Regardless, I stand by the lie.

This summer a Harris poll showed that 52 percent of us believed that either President or Mrs. Clinton probably did something wrong in the investigation called Whitewater. 56 percent thought the President had tried to cover up misdeeds. The next month the same questions were asked and the percentages increased -- more people believed something was rotten in Arkansas and the Clintons were trying to bury whatever was stinking.

Incredibly, when the questions were first asked, Bill Clinton had an 18 percent lead over Bob Dole. The next month, his lead had increased to 22 percentage points. Increasing skepticism over character evidently makes little difference on voter preference.

I do not trust him. He may be hiding something. Regardless, I will vote for him.

Not too many years ago, when a candidate was suspected of monkey business, the ever-vigilant press corps rooted out the dalliance, and the candidate -- properly -- withdrew from the race for the presidency. Today's attitude, however, is, everyone is doing it, so it is no big deal.

When we started defining issues, and the character of men and women, in terms of expediency, rather than right and wrong, we lost our way. To switch idioms, and risk the wrath of the politically correct, issues are no longer black or white. Everything is a shade of gray. The trouble is, there are more than 250 shades of gray.

A proper definition of character, in this election season, would be to stake out an issue and draw supporters to it. Reality, however, is quite different. The positions of most candidates are driven, from the national level, to local elections, by polls and pollsters. What is the public thinking? Well, then, that is what I believe. Since that is the criteria which drives most politicians, why should we believe that they will keep their word once they are sworn in? A position born of expediency will never translate into leadership.

"To lead," says Francis Fukuyama, professor of public policy at George Mason University, "a statesman needs virtues like credibility, self-confidence, consistency and vision... The decision to send other Americans to their deaths is better taken by someone whose guidance comes from within, rather than from poll numbers."

Daniel J. Boorstin, the librarian of Congress emeritus, said, "Character is a byproduct of all that a person has (or has not) done. So the character of a public person depends largely on what we do not know."

What about what we do know?

President Clinton signed welfare reform, but now implies that he will repeal most of it during a second term.

He is, is not, and is, against quotas.

In the 1992 campaign, he promised us a tax cut then reneged. He promised it again and reneged a second time -- actually he vetoed it. Now he is promising a tax cut for a third time.

President Clinton deliberately violated the law when he refused to implement the Ballistic Missile Defense Act, passed by Congress earlier this year, and signed by the President. The Constitution (Article II, Section 3) requires the President of the United States to enforce all of the laws of the land, not just those he personally likes. Testifying before Congress, Defense Undersecretary Paul Kaminski said that the administration planned to "roll back" the schedule for the development of two new defensive missile systems and did not intend to meet the deadlines -- mandated by law -- for initial deployment. Forty-one congressmen have sued the President in federal court to force him to keep his word -- to uphold the Constitution.

Young Americans have been placed in harm's way with guarantees of limited involvement. Now the White House is suggesting that the troops will remain in place beyond the original withdrawal dates. Administration foreign policy flip-flops send the signal that in spite of the fact that American men and women are on the ground, American ideals are up in the air. If we know what is right, why do we not have the moral strength to do it? If we do not know what is right, why are we there? If the Harris pollsters are correct, and most of us do not believe President Clinton here at home, what can be said of our friends, and enemies, abroad?

The character issue, which presidential misconduct has made an issue, could have been quieted when the question of pardons for convicted Whitewater defendants was raised. A firm, "No!" would have been sufficient. Maybe does not suffice.

The national issue to be decided on November 5 is, who will be elected President of the Untied States, not who will be canonized for sainthood. That much is certain. Still, only a good man can be a great president. The president's character should enrich his nation and its people, not degrade them.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/2/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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