Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Slippery Game of Character

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Slippery Game of Character

Article excerpt

Last week in Madison Square Garden, Bill Bradley summoned 5,000 friends to announce that he had captured the endorsement of the 1973 New York Knicks.

He also garnered the support of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Patrick Ewing, thus ensuring a White House with tremendous shot-blocking ability.

In other news, George W. Bush released a book telling us what a nice guy he is, emphasizing that he really did feel bad when he sent Karla Faye Tucker to the electric chair - despite his joking about it in Talk magazine.

And Al Gore told the world he really liked journalism when he worked as a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1970s, but public service eventually called.

What does all this mean? That's not yet clear. It may be that after a few months of serious talk the candidates are "reintroducing" themselves to the American people as we near the first primaries - an odd choice of words considering most sane voters slept through the original introductions.

But in Washington these Hallmark moments are cause for great celebration among the nation's cultural hand-wringers.

These events signify something big.

After eight years of moral bankruptcy in Washington, it appears the 2000 campaign is going to be centered on character.

And that kind of good news should be enough to make any voter ... run for cover. Because if this thinking is correct, we are in for 12 months of a whole lot of nothing.

Journalists love campaigns focused on character. Writing profiles and digging for dirt is a lot more fun than reading policy papers. But the problem with campaigns based on character is they don't really exist.

Character is a slippery thing that can be difficult to divine. Finding out the character of your neighbor is hard enough. Try finding out the character of a man who is surrounded by advisers telling him which baby to kiss in the crowd and which word to punch in the speech.

In truth, a campaign based on "character" is really a campaign based on "personality" - a campaign that becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of People magazine. Next week: John McCain on his life as a POW and why he loves dogs. But sadly, this may be the campaign people are asking for. …

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