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The Character Question

November 10, 2011

November 2011 has brought the “character” issue to public attention. As we know, it is extremely important when making life decisions to be certain of the character of our partners.

The greatest life decision, choosing a spouse, is too often goofed by Americans who marry. We do equally poorly with respect to two other character issues: choosing what university or college we attend and, for Republicans, choosing a presidential nominee.

Human character is difficult to judge, and some question that it should be an issue when choosing a political leader as opposed to a life partner.

A famous Viennese philosopher whose personal life was flawed was asked by his students how he could advocate principle in the classroom, but not adhere to principle in his personal life. He responded, “Does a sign post go in the direction in which it points?”

That may be considered cynical, but in politics there are many politicians of good character who, when given political power, make mistakes that injure their country. George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are two examples of Presidents who, by all reports, are very decent men, the type you want to live next to you, or whose sons you would want your daughter to marry. A vote for either Bush, based on their good character, however, was not good the country or the Republican Party.

That doesn’t mean we should vote for persons of bad character. It merely means that we should consider other measures when making important decisions.

In politics a measure besides character is political program or platform.

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the loathsome character of Bill Clinton was exposed to public scrutiny. Many of us, however, had paid no attention to his character during his rumor-filled campaign first campaign for President. His economic and tax policies and his bad, liberal internationalist, foreign policy inclinations were the reasons we didn’t vote for him.

Except for his bad personal character, Bill Clinton was as bad a President of the United States as Bush 41 and Bush 43.

One political professional, Tom Ellis, who for many years managed the political battles for North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, told me that when he heard that Ronald Reagan had chosen George H. W. Bush as his Vice President, he bawled like a baby. Ellis, a Republican strategist who had been through innumerable political battles knew that what he and all other conservatives had worked so hard to achieve was thrown away in that moment when Reagan chose Bush.

I attended the Orlando Conservative Political Action Conference the day after the fifth presidential debates. The day before, Ralph Reed convened a meeting of his “Faith and Freedom Coalition.” While waiting to meet CPAC organizer, Al Cardenas, I entered the ballroom of Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference and watched Mitt Romney as he made an appeal for the support of Evangelical Christians.

Romney ran through a list of important issues that he said he shared with his audience. As he did that my eyes scanned the room. What I saw was fifteen hundred people sitting on their hands. Yes, after they stopped sitting on their hands, they gave Romney polite applause, but it was clear they didn’t believe a word he said.

Of all the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, the personal life of Mitt Romney is unquestioned. On the other hand, Newt Gingrich, after a career in politics, doesn’t have a single friend. Rick Perry has admitted that he was a bounder when he served in the Air Force and though a presidential aspirant did not prepare to run. Herman Cain, a clever self-promoter and marketer, will not admit that his many accusers are telling the truth and that in one period of his life he was abusive toward women. Yet Mitt Romney’s exemplary personal life isn’t going to determine whether he will be the Republican nominee. No matter what he says, a good portion of Republican primary voters don’t believe him.

Personal character is important, but principled character revealed in public policy is more important when choosing those who will govern us.

Similarly, millions of students each year choose which college they will attend. Unfortunately, they and their parents are largely ignorant of the intellectual and moral hazards lurking behind the Ivy covered walls of America’s colleges and universities.

Penn State University, the flagship research university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has thousands of Penn State faculty for a student to choose from in putting together a good education, if they knew who the good ones are. But, Penn State doesn’t require that students take courses in a Core Curriculum. According to a survey of American higher education by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Penn State doesn’t require its undergraduates to study a foreign language, American history, economics or literature.

And this week’s fallout from a report of pedophilia by a member of Penn State’s athletic staff indicates that good judgment was lacking in the top reaches of Penn State’s administration.

Penn State’s President, John Spanier, was a highly paid promoter who apparently gave no thought to improving the academic requirements of Penn State’s undergraduate programs. He did raise a lot of money for full scholarships for gifted students—the brightest of the bright—but once admitted to Penn State their studies were not directed by required courses that prepared them for a lifetime of good citizenship.

For the privilege of a Penn State degree, Penn State’s students pay tuition of $15,250 (In State) and $27,114 (Out of State). Add $5,000 to each of those totals for the true costs for additional living, travel, personal entertainment and clothing expenses. An undergraduate student borrowing to pay the full cost of his college degree from Penn State will enter life with student loan debt of at least $80,000.

What is going on?

Most institutions that last a very long time lose their way, fail to be motivated by principle, and serve only those who administer them, not the persons whom they are supposed to serve.

Fifty years is a lifetime in the life of a successful business enterprise and the motivations of their founders do not survive them. Unfortunately, how they perform after that founding influence is lost impacts on the lives of everyone who comes into contact with them.

Penn State was founded one hundred and fifty-six years ago. Any knowledge of Penn State’s founding principles is lost in the fog of the distant past. The real Penn State is in the hands of professors who despise the family values of their students, religious faith, politics and sexual orientation. Some students are strengthened by conflict with their instructors, but many are not. For every one successful student in American colleges and universities today there are more students who drop out or whose lives are wrecked by the influence of their instructors.

The average terms of university presidents are short—three to five years—compared to the careers of tenured professors—fifty years. Today, America’s colleges are governed by instructors whose lives were shaped in the civil disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s. That’s a long time during which twelve freshmen classes were subjected to the influence of ideologies.

In January of this year, in an essay titled “Why Barack Obama is Our Oldest President,” I wrote:

…[O]ur politics attracts people who run for public office whose ideas were forged in the 19th century. Our current president—one of the youngest in American history—doesn’t have a single idea that wasn’t forged by socialist ideologues in 1848. President Barack Obama in intellectual terms is our oldest president.

American colleges and universities are dominated by old ideas and lack intellectual diversity. New ideas in the Social Sciences are abhorred unless presented within the rubric of Marxist ideology and the religion of scientism. Of all the disciplines in higher education, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Education, History and Political Science are hot houses for pseudo scientific theories parading as state of the art knowledge. Penn States’ president, John Spanier, we learn, was a trained sociologist. Yesterday Spanier lost his job because he wasn’t concerned about character.

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