- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

''Be a person of good character." There was a time when this precept was taught in public schools and reinforced in Sunday schools, in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The importance of character was a theme of literature, movies and history lessons. People were spoken of and evaluated in terms of their character, not their address, job or mode of transportation.
Character came from moral education rooted in religion. Every public school morning began with the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. The prayer and the pledge humbled us and bound us together. Each of us understood that we were important, but not the center of the universe. Self-esteem came from the consideration that we were taught to give to others.
These few words, "forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" kept rivalries and animosities subdued and in check. In the South, many kids owned a gun by the age of 9 or 10. But those children never thought of bringing a gun to school to shoot someone.
The pledge taught us that we were one people, "indivisible." We were all individuals, but we were a community. The community defined the parameters of our individualistic behavior.
Character did not mean eccentricity or promise amusement. It meant reliability, judgment, consideration and protection. Character meant that people thought of themselves differently than they do today. Self-indulgence was considered a sign of weakness. Acts of self-aggrandizement left a person diminished, not pumped up. Anyone who tooted his own horn would not be trusted in positions of leadership.
In a recent book, "The Death of Character," James Davison Hunter says character has been killed by a variety of liberal illusions. Platitudes have replaced virtues. Superficiality reigns.
Can we argue with Mr. Hunter? If we were still a people with character, would we have twice honored Bill Clinton with the highest office in the land? Would Hillary have won nomination for U.S. senator from New York? Would Al Gore have the Democratic nomination for president of the United States?
Were we still a people of character, would character be a forbidden subject? Would Bill Clinton and Al Gore's characters be politically incorrect topics for presidential campaigns? Would we value a candidate by his stance on "the issues" and not by his character?
Our vice president certainly believes that self-aggrandizement is no vice. Here is a person who claimed to be the inspiration for "Love Story" and the inventor of the Internet, whose unethical and probably illegal fund-raising activities are subject to "no controlling legal authority."
Mr. Gore is the candidate for whom a majority of American womanhood intends to vote. Women prefer Mr. Gore not for his character, but for his lack thereof. Mr. Gore promises to continue to absolve women from responsibility for unwanted pregnancy. If a carefree sexual life threatens a woman with motherhood, abort the baby and continue as usual.
Mr. Gore also scores highly with the elderly, not because he is a person of character but because he fervently promises to pay their prescription bills with other people's money.
Often people who lack character hide behind noble causes, such as "social justice." But where is the social justice when young couples, struggling to maintain families and make their mortgage payments, have to pay the medical bills of seniors, who are traveling the Earth and cruising its seas? Some elderly people are quite poor. However, the elderly as a class have more assets than the young who are paying the retired population's medical bills.
In days gone by, character protected everyone. It protected children, who could play outside unsupervised, and who could go to school, ballgames and Saturday afternoon movies by foot or bike without supervision and return safely.
Character protected men from false accusations. It protected women from abuse, and families from dissolution.
Character protected people from themselves. Emotions were kept in check. Even when character failed and people were murdered for love, hate or money, no one fired indiscriminately upon strangers.
Character protected people from crime and gratuitous acts of violence. Even criminals had enough character to feel remorse.
Today government has undertaken to do what character once did. But government has no more character than the people in government who, in turn, have no more character than the people who elect them.
If James Davison Hunter is correct that "character is dead," who, then, are we? What are we?

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