I thoroughly enjoy participating in civil, stimulating, intelligent exchanges of views, when they do not descend into personal attacks on the participants. My own honesty, values, and character have been called into question after one such exchange, and so I am responding here in order that there be no confusion about what I said or why.
Yesterday I posted on Facebook the following quotes and question, along with the familiar historic photograph you see below. In less than an hour I received a message from a long-time friend and colleague, casting aspersions on my ethics and my integrity for having written it.
I sent him a short, private reply, telling him what my motives were for writing it — which I assumed were not what he thought they were. For this essay, I have greatly fleshed-out those ideas, to give the reader more of my thoughts about the state of American politics today, as well as a sense of the type of attack my friend made.
(My apologies to all of you of good breeding, culture, and taste for my use of the crude language from my friend’s message in the title of this essay.)
My post, in its entirety:
Former Secretary Clinton: “I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received.” (25 July 2015)
President Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” (26 January 1998)
I wonder if she will come to regret her words as much as he did his.
I guess “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” (17 August 1998)
He broke his complaints down into roughly four areas: (1) what I posted didn’t live up to his expectations of me; (2) because Republican leaders have been known to violate the public’s trust, one shouldn’t point the finger at members of the other Party; (3) I should only post about what he considers to be “real issues”; and (4) my post, as he read it, barely rose to the level of ‘vulgar refuse’ and ‘inconsequential excrement’ (my translation of his actual words).
1. You’re Better Than That. My friend attempted to show the worthlessness of what I wrote by noting his own cognitive dissonance. By that I mean he asserted that the content of my post was diametrically opposite to qualities he attributed to me. “I thought I knew you as a logical, intelligent, well read person,” he harrumphed.
Surely, my friend seemed to be saying, someone of my ilk would never point out the above ethical, moral, and honesty violations (a) in this way, or (b) at all.
2. Look Over There! GOP Sleaze! My friend went on to say that, because there have been Republican public officials who have “cheated on their wives” (his words) and “cheated on their voters” (again, his words), the quotes I gave and the question I asked were somehow “cheap sensationalism” and were not “real issues.” While indicting the entire GOP for harboring “so many” such miscreants, he gave as example only one Republican leader caught with his pants down. I’m not certain why he thought that would, should, or could either shame me or rebut my post.
Since my friend’s rebuttal only referenced the Republican Party, I wonder if he thinks that these character flaws are found in greater numbers inside the GOP than elsewhere. Would it help his perspective, I wondered, to note other non-Republican philanderers? Huma’s Wiener? NC’s own John Edwards? Eliot Spitzer? Jesse Jackson? Kwame Kilpatrick? Gary Hart? Wilbur Mills? Charles Robb? the Kennedy brothers? LBJ? FDR?
I trust he and I agree on this underlying truth: that lapses (or lack) of character transcend party affiliation. Maybe our difference is in whether we should hold those moral lapses up for scrutiny of people of both Parties, or neither Party, or only the Party with which we disagree.
Did he, in fact, think the reason behind my post was purely partisan? If so, then he does not know me as well as I thought he did. Simply put, I believe we must view moral and character issues in the context of the entirety of American leadership, inclusive of all political persuasions. If we hold to a high moral standard those politicians with whom we disagree, while giving a pass to our personal favorites, by definition our arguments cannot be said to be character-driven.
3. Leaders’ Lies and What They Lie About Are Not “Real Issues.” If we as Americans do not believe that values, honesty, fidelity, truthfulness, humility, trustworthiness, morals, and sterling character are “real issues” — and by that I mean huge, preeminent, over-arching issues — in this (or any) election, then America has sunk even lower into an abyss than I feared. I was both surprised and alarmed that my thoughtful, intelligent, and highly creative friend chose not to see my post as having been framed from this perspective, and that he apparently assumed it merely arose from “party politics as usual.”
The answer to the unasked question at this point is, Yes I believe we must hold accountable (and I have done so) any public official, of any Party, for violations of trust with the American people. Period. Full stop.
4. Inconsequential Excrement, etc. Just a reminder to my friend: I didn’t start this. It was the the former Secretary and the former President who seasoned the public discourse with their own “cheap garbage” and “low level crap,” thereby making them into “real issues.” I merely raised a question (with civility, tinged with an appropriate modicum of sarcasm) concerning what they have asked us to believe.
I didn’t make either of them look directly into the camera and fiercely say what they said to the American people. I didn’t make either of them do what they did and then lie about it.
What then are we supposed to think about a leader who had impeachment proceedings begun and a Special Prosecutor investigate, which proved he lied to us about his pants being down? Or a leader who has an FBI criminal investigation underway, which almost immediately produced documents that demonstrate she lied to us about national security?
Low level crap? It is coming from them, my friend — not me.
Post Script: My friend’s reply? “You are better than that.” His final decision? “Sorry but goodbye. I have no need to read such shallow thinking and writing.”
I wrote back to assure him I will always be here as his friend who admires him for all he has accomplished. But I doubt he will ever read it, because by that time he had already unfriended me. (sigh)