One of my favorite politicians of a generation ago was Alan Simpson, the Republican Senator from Wyoming. Like all public figures, sometimes he said things and voted in a way that I wish were different, and at other times he seemed to me to be spot on. One statement of his that bears repeating in every political season is this one, as quoted in David Gergen’s 2001 book, Eyewitness to Power: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Which brings us to this year’s two major party Presidential candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump.
I’m not the first columnist who has decried that our real choices have come down to these two deeply flawed individuals. They each won their party’s nomination fair and square, by having more of their party faithful support them than anybody else in the primaries, not only here in South Carolina but across the country. Alan Simpson (who had the foresight to retire from the Senate in 1997) must be appalled. But given the fact that these are the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties and the well documented concerns regarding the integrity of both, where should we look for the best advice about whom to choose in November? Listening to their campaign rhetoric is not liable to help, as each will doubtless criticize quite rightly the mote in the eye that is the lack of integrity in the other, notwithstanding the obvious log residing in the eye of the critic.
My advice at this point: pick a politician or two from your own party, one whom you think does have integrity and one who knows his or her party’s candidate reasonably well, on a personal as well as a professional basis. Don’t look at how they describe the other party’s nominee; surely their assessment cannot reasonably be expected to be (as Fox News would put it) fair and balanced. Instead, look at how that person with integrity describes their own party’s nominee – not only today, but last week, last month, last year. If you trust their integrity, can you then trust their assessment of their own party’s candidate? If they have endorsed the candidate (as many will have), is it a ringing endorsement consistent with the speaker’s past assessments, or is it a lukewarm “lesser of two evils” endorsement?
A lot can happen between now and November, and the unexpected is certain to occur. Don’t just decide on somebody today and stick to that out of some sense of party loyalty, or loyalty to a decision once made. Rather, review your decision and your options repeatedly as Election Day approaches. In deciding whom to vote for, look beyond party labels, beyond easy categories to the person behind the platforms and the man or woman behind the speeches – not just on the Presidential ballot but the ballot for each office, from county candidates on up to the Presidential election. Consider Senator Simpson’s political words to live by: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”