Not wanting to leave the reader in suspense, the answer to the question is yes: character matters.
Fareed Zakaria recently wrote a column entitled, “Hillary Can Lift Her Campaign With Big Ideas.” His point: if Hillary talked of “big” ideas, such as investing in America and reducing inequality, people would stop asking about the burritos she ordered. No doubt she can talk about ideas, big and small. Anyone can do that. It is not “big ideas” that inform us about a person. It is small things; the way people conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis. That is what speaks to character. And there is nothing more important in a President (or, in fact, in anyone) than character – they comprise the moral qualities that determine who we are.
No experience can fully prepare one for President. Lincoln probably had less experience in the national arena before being elected than anyone before or since. It was his character – his principles, moral sense, honesty, judgment and wisdom – that allowed him to succeed when faced with the nation’s biggest crisis since 1787. While those character traits clung to Lincoln as though he were covered in Velcro, they slip off Hillary as though she were made of Teflon.
Hillary is ambitious and ambition is a positive trait. National politics attracts the ambitious. Any candidate who takes to the stump in a Presidential campaign assumes there is no one better qualified to lead than themselves. Victory is glorious; the job is stimulating, but it can also be inebriating. It is when ambition morphs into sublimity that we must worry; for such attitudes lead to arrogance and condescension.
The Clintons have become rich. The desire of individuals to make money is healthy. It is the fuel that drives a nation’s prosperity. But when people use their political careers and connections as a stepping-stone to wealth, it becomes cronyism and it is wrong. We have come a long way since Harry Truman was, with a pension of $25,000, offered lucrative corporate board seats. His response: “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.” We now have an ex-President who, during the time his wife was Secretary of State, made eleven speeches in foreign countries for which he was paid more than $500,000 each. Millions of dollars were paid into Mr. Clinton’s family foundation, again much of it by governments, the relationships for which Mrs. Clinton had responsibility as Secretary of State. Since Peter Schweizer, author of Clinton Cash, apparently found “no direct evidence” of any quid pro quo, Hillary supporters are bucked-up and the courts may be satisfied. But the Clinton’s behavior does not pass the “smell” test.
The Clinton Foundation is like most, in its eleemosynary concerns. But it has a higher expense and compensation ratio than most charities, and it had the dubious distinction of recently being added to Charity Navigator’s “watch list.” Unlike most family foundations, its funds have not come from moneys the family made. The money comes from a number of large donors, including individuals, corporations and governments. What makes the Clinton Foundation special is that the only reason to contribute is for political influence and access. To believe otherwise is naïve.
Hillary is a woman who years ago, under the guidance of her husband’s friend James Blair, counsel to Tyson Foods, turned a $1,000 investment into $100,000 in ten months. What are the odds of you or me being able to do that? The Whitewater scandal was so thoroughly whitewashed that it is only now mentioned by someone who must be a “right-wing conspiracist.” Subpoenaed billing records from her years at the Rose law firm in Little Rock disappeared and then mysteriously reappeared in the family’s quarters in the White House, but too late for the commission charged with investigating the transactions.
In more recent times, she lied about being under sniper fire on a 1996 visit to Bosnia. She lied about being broke when she and Bill left the White House in 2001. As Secretary of State, in contravention of normal behavior, she used a personal e-mail account for her official duties. And then, despite requests from House investigating committees, she decided on her own to not only delete thousands of e-mails, but to destroy the server as well. Had any of us, working in the private sector, done something similar we would have been fired. And she was (and wants to be) a public servant! This is the woman who lied about the chain of events in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans. She lied to the families receiving the coffins at Andrews Air Force Base, and then she had the insensitive gall to tell the House Oversight Committee, regarding how the four men died, “What difference, at this time, does it make?” This is a woman who had the bravado last week to tell us she is running because trust is government is needed!
Mr. Zakaria is wrong. All politicians on the campaign trail promise any number of “big ideas,” knowing that most will never be realized. It is not “big” ideas that tell us about a person or how that individual will conduct himself or herself in office. We know what it means to elect a conservative or a liberal. We understand their policy differences. It is natural to support the one that most conforms to our beliefs. In a sense, the appeal of Hillary (as it is of President Obama and of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) is a manifestation of James Madison’s concern about an “unfiltered” democracy, rather than a “layered” republic – that emotional, but ephemeral issues can sway an election. It is an appeal to special interests, not to the best interests of the nation.
Most politicians are decent people, trying to do what they can to make the country better. Most believe in the concept of public service; (though cronyism is a growing threat.) We may agree or disagree regarding respective policies. Getting policy right is important, but character is critical. Character knows no party. Will this individual put integrity ahead of personal gain? Can he or she be trusted? Do they have a moral sense? It isn’t what they say; it is how they live their lives. Consider two ex-Presidents and how they have lived their post-President lives: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And then think of which one the media adores…and despair for our country!
Democrats have placed all their eggs in one basket. Big money donors and the Democratic Party have a lot invested in Hillary, which makes it appear that Democrat primary voters will have no choice next year. That’s unfortunate. But I suspect that will change. The baggage Mrs. Clinton lugs around is, in my opinion, too heavy and will prove too damaging. That may reflect undue optimism on my part, but I suspect, as I’ve written before, she will concoct some excuse to quit the race. If she does, it will be because Americans have grown tired of an unprincipled charlatan.
The Opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not represent those of the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., Inc., or of any of its partners or employees.