April 1, 2007

Our mail this past week has been abundant: "Character matters" that is what our readers say, and we agree. We have had an outpouring of highly supportive letters and comments concerning our last column relative to "candidates and political rhetoric sifted by core values." Further, the recently released Associated Press-Ipos poll found that 55 percent of those surveyed consider honesty, integrity and other values of character and competence are most important to voters. It is apparent, these qualities makes a difference in the minds of the people. And this appears to be the case if the candidates are running for a position on a school board, local municipal government, county -wide races, or for an elected position at the state or federal scene.

It was Adam Smith who brilliantly stated: "good character is the final piece of wisdom"; those eight words have a full measure of meaning. And former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt said it well: "People grow through experience if they meet life... honestly and courageously, for his is how character is built." And it was Booker T. Washington who stated "Character, not circumstance, makes the person." There is no doubt but that there is an abundance of wisdom in these statements by Smith, Roosevelt, and Washington; and the voters agree.

We are now heading into an election campaign season...from annual school board elections, to county-wide races, to the Presidential election of 2008. The fact of the matter is: the bottom line criteria in the minds of the voters come down to the over all character of the candidate. For without good character, being a good orator, a clever debater or a slick campaigner, just does not cut it. President John F. Kennedy said it well "Courage, not complacency is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship is what is required." To put it bluntly, we are right to demand good character of our leaders and to believe that character and discipline is inseparable from leadership credibility. It was John Locke who said "The discipline of desire is the background of character....for the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts."

The history of the world is filled with various despots, warriors, and demigods who have held onto power by autocratic force. But in a representative democracy, a republic such as the USA, it is the people who have the responsibility for selecting and electing their representatives . And that responsibility begins at the grass roots and at the ballot box.

It is true, today we look for good managers in positions of leadership. But, in the minds of the voters, it goes beyond that. Good managers are people who do THINGS RIGHTS, but leaders... with good character... are people who do the RIGHT THING. Good leaders do not command excellence, they BUILD excellence. To reach excellence one must have a profile of sound character. And a person with that sound quality possesses solid core values and principles. These principles should be based on a "belief in the individual" and resultantly grounded in trustworthiness, fairness, respect, and responsibility for mankind. The person of character shows drive, energy, determination, self-discipline, and consistency in thought, willpower and courage. And furthermore, in the words of Ronald Reagan "America needs principled leaders, not labels, such is bantered about today. A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets tough."

We believe that public service is a high calling that is grounded in personal values rather than market values. It involves looking out for the collective best interest of all, rather than a narrow interest of a few. Public service should attract people who desire to maximize their 'self worth' rather than their 'net worth'. They are those who think more in terms of "everyone" rather than "me." The simple but powerful truth is-- public service requires top talent with core values of decency, consistency and honesty and who meet the serious challenges recognizing that their actions affect many.

President Harry S. Truman once remarked, "A man cannot have character unless he lives a fundamental system of morals that creates character." Character, as we see it, does not emerge from a vacuum. It is tied to convictions that shape not only a leader's life, but also the positions one represents. In short, character consists of beliefs as well as actions. One's character will be tried and tested and is judged by what one does in day by day situations and when the times are challenging and demanding. Currently, these are those times.

All of us are cognizant that life is full of difficult decisions and the right choice isn't always the easy choice or a popular decision. But in the final analyses, one must do what is right based upon the very best information at hand at the time and make a judgmental decision, which flows from the base line of a solid character, supported by virtue and honesty.

We believe that character is doing what is right even when nobody is looking. We believe that good character is required in all walks of life. If one's walk is that of a student, a teacher, a farmer, a banker, a physician, a business person, a mechanic, or an elected public official ... it is good character that counts. When all is said and done, we believe that people, not material things, are America's greatest resource; and people, including our leaders of good character are America's greatest treasure. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.