On my desk in my home office I have several yellow “sticky” notes upon which I write reminders, sometimes for my “to-do” list but mostly with those momentary but deeper reflections I feel I need to capture for later pondering. One of those deeper thoughts constantly before my eyes says, “Good policy requires good character.”
Of course, for those who know me, this theme of personal character has been important to me. Character has been my basis for understanding freedom, supporting the issues I have supported over the years and opposing the many ideologies and ideologues I have opposed. For instance, my opposition to the ideology of libertarianism is about its general lack of intellectual and moral character rather than disagreement over any particular issue.
Character is the basis for my opposition to Donald Trump. I unaffiliated from the Utah Republican Party because of its weird fidelity to a man of low character. While I disagree with Trump on several issues such as immigration, trade, foreign policy and the federal budget, my primary concern with Trump is his near-complete lack of character. In fact, I do not know how many more times or ways in which I can write about his unfitness for office.
It turns out I am not alone, even if us Never-Trumpers are now few and far between. In light of Mitt Romney’s recent blathering about illegal immigration, the group Mormon Women for Ethical Government stood up publicly to oppose Romney’s recent words. The Mormon Women group lists as its mission as being “dedicated to the ideals of decency, honor, accountability, transparency and justice in governing.”
Coincidently, another Utah organization, Character First, is gathering signatures among Utah GOP delegates and voters asking each to pledge to make personal and public character a centerpiece of their GOP politics. The Character First pledge reads, “I will strive to uphold—both in public and in private—strong moral values such as honesty, kindness, humility, courage, civility, patience, fidelity, trustworthiness, and self-sacrifice. I also pledge to support for public office those candidates who demonstrate these values in their private lives and in their public service. I will speak out when public officials fail to do so.”
I signed that pledge and I commend both groups for their activism.
Of course, any activism can go astray and, frankly, usually does – especially “good government” organizations. For many of these activists, “good government” is code for progressive politics, as it is for the Alliance for a Better Utah. The mission of the Mormon Women’s group is broad enough where this could happen to them. But, until it does, I would encourage their efforts.
As you have heard me say a million times, freedom requires us to be our better selves and, when we are, our good character will create good public policy. Ideologues will disagree. They will say good public policy is only a matter of sound principles. Likewise, cynics will disagree. They will say good character in politics is impossible to achieve. But both are wrong.
Sound principles are important but sound principles without good character is like listening to a monkey try to play Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 – and, if you try to stop the monkey, it will start playing with its feet too! Meanwhile, the cynic in the audience will say, “See, I told you so.”
Character matters more than ideas – and this coming from an idea guy! Even if an elected official’s idea is bad, her good character will allow her idea to be objectively analyzed, rigorously debated and finally perfected. Of course, that is the long way to good public policy. I prefer getting the idea right the first time. But the point still stands. Americans will trust leaders of good character even when they disagree on politics – or at least they should.
The culture of our politics today, regardless of party, seems to continue to be “What have you done for me lately?” and it is disheartening. Perhaps movements such as the Mormon Women and Character First can change all that, at least in Utah. They deserve our encouragement, if not our support.