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Too many of our leaders failing the character test


WASHINGTON - Sadly and tragically, neither the passage of time nor the accumulated knowledge and experience that should be the gift of such years has improved the basic human frailties and insecurities of some who purport to lead us.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis writes about the infant United States of 1801 when he says, "Personal character was essential in order to resist public temptations. ... Character counted ... because the temptations being served up by the political conditions in this formative phase of the American republic put the moral fiber of national leadership to a true test."

Our "national leadership" is still taking that same test 204 years later. And as we witness daily on our televisions and in our newspapers, many leaders are failing it and us.

Why? Because they are putting the good of their political party or their individual needs before the good of this republic. Simple as that.

And who, ultimately, is responsible for letting them tarnish the world's shining example of democracy? Anyone who has the distinct privilege of voting in our nation and continually and inexplicably returns to power those who would dishonor and diminish their office.

The United States of America is an experiment no more. We are the longest-surviving republic in the history of the world. Yet we must suffer the childlike tantrums, integrity-challenged decisions and blatant disregard for the welfare of our people foisted upon us by select politicians who have decided that common decency and the laws and rules of this republic do not apply to them.

This is not partisan, and names should not be listed. Both parties harbor members who have long since put the needs of their constituents at the bottom of their self-aggrandizing "to-do" lists. Should you have any doubts, simply turn on C-SPAN and watch the daily, always-predictable food fight taking place within the sandboxes of Congress.

Be it Senate leaders reneging on their word to other Senate leaders, lobbyists embracing members of Congress with ill-gotten cash or our elected representatives taking family and friends on taxpayer- or special interest-paid junkets to faraway and expensive locales, we the people are being forced to pay the ultimate price. It is a price that, in time of war, is insulting at the least.

Every day, the world grows smaller and much more dangerous. The "character" our "Founding Brothers" needed and desired in 1801 pales in comparison with what is necessary today. For while they hoped and prayed for the strength, integrity and wisdom required to guide our young republic, today's leaders must govern in the face of terrorists seeking to destroy our country by any means, including nuclear, chemical and biological attack. It is because of that very threat that we must put a spotlight on our elected officials and hold them strictly accountable for their actions. Second chances are all but impossible to come by in a world gone mad.

The disgusting truth of the matter is that a number of members of Congress and state and local officials have forgotten that "we the people" are the boss. As inconvenient as it might be to their hedonistic lifestyles, I would strongly suggest that they reread (or for most, actually, read for the first time) the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These Founding Brothers seriously knew their stuff and bestowed upon us a nation that, for most, is still the envy of the world.

We are being let down by a number of elected officials. Much worse, we are allowing them to let us down. Our indifference to politicians and politics in wartime is as repugnant as their misdeeds. We must take responsibility for those we empower to shamelessly shill for themselves. More than that, regardless of party, we must acknowledge the obvious and vote them out of office.

The "character" of 1801 counts now, more than ever.

Douglas MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole and was a White House and Pentagon official. He is an author.

Columnist Ellen Goodman is on vacation.

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