134 of 218 DOCUMENTS

	The Boston Herald

	October 21, 2008 Tuesday  

	Character counts, but subjectively



	LENGTH: 572 words

	The issue of character has assumed a prominent position in American
	politics. After decades of scandal-ous incidents involving our
	political leaders, Americans simply no longer believe they can trust
	the people who run things. Our best and brightest have been caught
	too often literally with their pants down. 
	Now that the debates between Barack Obama and John McCain have ended,
	we are, therefore, likely to hear less from the candidates about
	their opponent's bad policies and programs and lots more about their
	bad behavior.
	There has recently been no shortage of unethical conduct from our
	public officials. Sen. Larry Craig was convicted of engaging in lewd
	conduct in a public restroom. Presidential candidate John Edwards
	admitted lying about an extramarital affair with a campaign employee.
	Sen. David Vitter's phone number turned up among those kept by the
	reputed ``D.C. Madam.'' Gov. Eliot Spitzer was caught on a federal
	wiretap arrang-ing to meet a high-priced prostitute. And Rep. Mark
	Foley was caught sending sexually explicit Internet mes-sages to at
	least one underage former page.
	As reported in recent CBS and Gallup national polls, the credibility
	of most of our leaders has plum-meted. Only 22 percent of Americans
	now approve of President Bush. A mere 15 percent approve of
	The issue of character has transformed the direction of the current
	presidential campaign. Rather than focus on differences between them
	regarding energy, health care, education, unemployment and the
	envi-ronment, the candidates accuse one another of being dishonest,
	disreputable and immoral.
	The Democrats suggest that McCain is guilty by association. In the
	1980s, he participated in meetings with banking regulators on behalf
	of his good friend Charles Keating, a man who was later convicted of
	secu-rities fraud in the savings and loan scandal. The Republicans
	argue that Obama pals around with a 1960s terrorist - founder of the
	notorious Weather Underground - who wants to blow up the United
	During the 1960s, we treated our political leaders like royalty. They
	could do no wrong in their private lives; and if they did we would
	just look the other way.
	John F. Kennedy's acts of infidelity in the White House were well
	known yet summarily ignored by the press and, therefore, by the
	But from the 1970s on, public naivete gave way to widespread
	skepticism, if not outright cynicism, re-garding the trustworthiness
	of our public officials. There seemed to be one scandal after another
	- from Wa-tergate to Whitewater, from S&L to Enron, from Bob Packwood
	to Gary Hart.
	As a result, the private lives of our leaders are now routinely
	placed under a microscope. American citi-zens do not trust public
	officials, so they use hearsay about their personal lives to
	evaluate the credibility of their representatives in Washington,
	If we are ever to re-establish the credibility of our leaders, if
	they could regain the trust and confidence that they once had with
	the American people, our preoccupation with the private lives of
	candidates would probably disappear, or at least be greatly
	diminished in importance.
	The Ashanti of West Africa would cut off your lips for spreading
	dirt about the chief. If the Ashanti stan-dard were ever to be
	applied here, there would be countless Americans in need of oral
	Jack Levin is the Irving and Betty Brudnick Professor of Sociology
	and Criminology at Northeastern Uni-versity.

	LOAD-DATE: October 21, 2008