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Morality, character are essential to politics

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Within minutes of the public announcement that Al Gore had selected Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, pundits started declaring that would end the debate about morals and character.

The theory is that Gore, by aligning himself with Lieberman, a strong critic of Bill Clinton's "lapses" in the fidelity department and a man who seems above reproach in his own personal and public conduct, would no longer be subject to criticism arising from said lapses. It would remove any taint from his association with the current president.

I hope they're wrong that morality and character will no longer be guests at the discussion.

I'm not talking about Bill Clinton's morality, either. Love him or hate him, he won't be much of a factor in a few short months. And near as I can tell, he's the one who should bear the consequences for his sleazy personal behavior.

I'm talking about morality and character in general. If there was ever a place where that discussion belongs, it's in an election. It should be, in fact, front and center, regardless of a candidate's party affiliation.

It's a dog chasing its tail, this cycle of apathy that seems to surround so much of American politics any more. I believe people have become disillusioned with politicians in part because they get away with so much. And they get away with so much because we as voters have become so apathetic that we don't hold them accountable.

We hear an official has had an affair and we may express disgust, but that's about it. Someone lies about something important and he may have to apologize, but there are no consequences. A politician's possibly unsavory business relationship comes to light, but quickly floats away. Campaign promises seem to be anything but actual promises. A candidate's "word" is little more than a slogan to help capture the prize, the election.

I have one friend who doesn't vote because he figures it just doesn't matter. He says that American politics is all smoke and mirrors anyway.

I have another friend who wrestles with the question of whom to support and who admits she sometimes can't reach a decision. She and her husband, she said, have twice agreed to cancel out each other's votes. They want to participate, but they are hoping that someone else knows something they don't that will point to a clear-cut choice.

There's too much to consider, she tells me. And it's true that most of us have complex combinations of issues that are important to us. The process of sorting out who stands for what on which point can be tedious and frustrating.

A friend and I were discussing that the other day. She said she could vote for Gore because he's likely to be kinder to the poor and the elderly and the disadvantaged. But she's not sure she can support his approach to the military. She thinks he undermines the need to keep up a strong defense. And that's a big deal, too.

She likes one candidate's stand on abortion but is appalled by his approach to environmental questions. And foreign policy has become too complicated to even figure, she said. Yet it may be the most important question of all, given our global interaction.

Add in education and health care and social programs like welfare and Social Security and Medicare and you have a pretty hard-to-sort mix of viewpoints between the candidates. Not to mention the likelihood that the next president will affect our lives for years to come with his ability to nominate to the Supreme Court.

I've voted for Republicans and Democrats and Independents. I have voted for some candidates, and against others.

I'm leaning a little toward the disillusionment side of the equation. I'm not so much interested in what a candidate says he believes in as I am in what his record shows, both personal and pubic. I can relate to the child who sits on the porch and waits for an absentee parent who has promised a special outing but never shows up. I no longer believe every promise I hear.

But I am also becoming more demanding. I think we should be expecting more, not less, of the people who not only lead us but who represent who we are as a society to the rest of the world.

I think it's ALL about morality and character.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com