“Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.” -John C. Maxwell
It was just over a year ago when my son, then 17, asked me this question during one of the first primary debates:
“Dad…..if it comes down to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the general election, what will you do and how will you vote?”
At first, I shudder, as the thought makes me visibly uncomfortable.
“Son….that’ll never happen,” I respond confidently. ” No way. The nation is just not that dumb. We’re smart enough to not let it come down to those two yahoos. Have a little faith in the system.”
Unconvinced, he pushes on.
“What if it does? It’s possible, isn’t it? This is going to be my first presidential election as a voter. Please tell me those won’t be my only choices.”
Instinctively, my best fatherly “it’ll be okay” voice kicks in. Years of experience as a parent of two kids has made me an expert at keeping the children calm during especially tense moments, like severe storms or ongoing fights with the dual female contingent in the house over who left the lid up in the bathroom or who didn’t change out the empty roll of toilet paper.
“Brandon…there’s no way an intelligent and remotely informed voting population allows it. Pretenders have a way of flaming out. It’ll just take some time and endurance to get through the primaries….that’s why we have them…to filter out who has a serious platform and who doesn’t. It’ll be historically interesting to watch, don’t you think? Besides, I refuse to believe that as a participatory republic, we’re stupid enough to let that happen. Know what I mean?”
He sighs, but is obviously not entirely convinced.
“Good point, Dad. I hope you’re right.”
A slight pause.
“But what would you do if it ended up that way?”
And CUT. End scene. Cue the laugh track, because the joke’s on me.
The problem? I don’t hear anyone else laughing on either side of the aisle.
One of the more difficult aspects of the 2016 race comes from the most honest place in which I live, that being the example I set for my family. This election year is especially difficult, given that we’ve seen an alarming lack of moral fiber among the primary candidates.
I admit to finding no value in any of our presidential options. I’d feel better penciling in “Mickey Mouse” in the write in section than checking any of the party boxes on the ballot. One thing is clear about the 2016 election: both candidates seriously lack respectable character. On one side we have a pompous, overbearing, unprofessional, narcissistic blowhard. Behind door number two? Meet the un-trustable, perpetually-waffling law-breaker.
It leaves me with an incredibly bad taste in my mouth….like trying to rinse out that last little remnant of vomit in the back of your throat after you’ve doused it with Scope for the fifth time. Try as you might, you just can’t reach the spot. It sits there, a constant reminder of the unpleasant location where you willingly placed your head just moments earlier.
And in some regards, I feel the exact same way about the voting booth as I do the aforementioned toilet. Both have identical potential, and in a metaphorical sense, represent the same feeling of nausea.
Since I was old enough to submit a ballot, I’ve voted for candidates on both sides of the aisle that I believed would serve the presidency well. No question much of that has to do with platforms and beliefs, but from the moment I became a father, my vote has had consistently more to do with character and morality than stump speeches and attack ads.
That’s because everything changed when my own personal constituency of two, my children, had no choice but to rely on my good judgment. Not just my vote, but all of the choices my wife and I made regarding their lives and their futures.
That’s what makes this year’s electoral circus so intolerable. For the first time since I can remember voting, I’ll be forced to pick based on who’ll screw up the oval office the least. Surely, that’s a matter of opinion that swings wildly depending on who you talk to. You need only check your Facebook account to see the high level of fragmentation that exists among friends and family members when it comes to our political choices.
What ‘s missing this time around that’s existed in previous elections? Character. Conviction. Morality. Ethics. All of that has been thrown to the wayside in favor of a political dumpster fire. As a nation, we have allowed ourselves to embrace the lowest common denominators.
Which makes my litmus test for voting even more important than ever before:
Can I justify my vote to my children? Can I look them in the eye and say “I voted for (blank) because of …” and not feel ashamed?
After all, they’re the ones who’ll have to deal with the consequences of our actions. They’re the kids who don’t get to choose between the lesser of two evils. It’s up to me and millions of other presumably “responsible” adults to put the right person into the most powerful position in the modern world. Understandably, I’d prefer to elect someone who doesn’t have the character and moral convictions of a mob boss in a crime syndicate.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the conundrum, because the talent pool is pretty dry. Morality, ethics and character just aren’t benchmarks of the 2016 campaign.
In a sense, Ted Cruz was right when he said at the Republican National Convention:
“If you love your children as much as I know you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the constitution.”
Ironically, that could very well be the best advice I’ve heard from any political talking head this year.
Photo: Getty Images