It's about that time again. It's the moment of truth—not just for a couple of politicians seeking the Holy Grail of their political careers, but also for the citizens of our beloved country. More than the presidential candidates demonstrating their values as leaders, we the people are demonstrating our values as followers. We are telling them how we want to be led. The question we need to ask ourselves is: "Are we telling them the right things?"
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, we will be electing the 57th president of the United States of America. We've had some good presidents and some bad presidents in the centuries our country has been in existence but, after enabling 56 men to acquire such a prestigious position of leadership, you would have thought we'd have it all figured out by now. Yet even now, we are confused about just what we are looking for in a leader.
There are an infinite number of things that we can look at when we are trying to decide which presidential candidate should be leading our country for the next four years. Some will look at policy. Where does the candidate stand on certain issues? What is his platform and how does it align with one’s political or ideological beliefs? Others will look at charisma. Does the candidate inspire me? Is he a good cheerleader—someone who can make me believe in myself and in my fellow man?
While a candidate's ability to inspire and where he stands on important issues are clearly important items to consider, I would argue that they are subsets of something far more important. If we really want to know whether or not a presidential candidate is fit for office, we will look at the one thing that bleeds into everything else: His character.
Without character, there can be no trust. Sure, a candidate can take "the right side" on an issue but, without character, he will change his mind as soon as it's convenient for him. Sure, a candidate can inspire us with hope for a better future but, without character, he will not feel compelled to translate that hope into a reality. It isn't enough to be running in the "right party" or have the best stage presence around. We need something more. We need character.
Character is what drives a man to be consistent in who he says he is, what he says he believes, and how he says he plans to solve problems. Character is what makes a leader keep his promises. Going into the 2012 election, I think we can all agree, what we need more than anything else is a candidate who will keep his promises.
Character is best understood backwards. Sure, we can look at what the candidates are promising and judge their character based on that, but it doesn't really mean anything. What really tells us whether or not the candidate in question has character is whether or not he had demonstrated it in the past. What lessons can we draw from the character demonstrated by the presidential candidates in what they've done so far? That is the question.
Recently, incumbent President Barack Obama fell under scrutiny for denying a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel has been a faithful ally of the United States and Obama has met with Netanyahu on all of his visits to the U.S. except for one—when Obama was on a foreign visit. This time, however, Obama wasn't on a foreign visit. He was campaigning for re-election. The White House, therefore, responded to Netanyahu's request to meet with Obama during his visit to the United States for the U.N. General Assembly by saying, "The President's schedule does not permit that."
Those who know a little more about the situation will understand Obama's avoidance of Netanyahu as a political move. Netanyahu wants Obama to be more supportive of his efforts against Iran's nuclear program, while Obama wants to avoid the issue. So, instead of meeting with Netanyahu and risking a confrontation so close to the election, Obama is using his busy schedule as a red herring to avoid a difficult discussion. Even worse than this fact is that the Obama is failing to admit that he doesn't want to have the discussion. He's clinging to the excuse of a busy schedule.
That, my friends, is an example of a lack of character. There are several lessons on character that we can learn from Obama's recent fiasco. First, character never avoids confrontation. Obama did not want to meet with Netanyahu, because he knew that the resulting conversation could cause some dissension. Character is stronger than that. When difficult situations arise, character doesn't back down. Character meets challenges head on. When we are seeking a person to lead our country, we need someone whose character will remain intact no matter what comes his way.
Another lesson we learn from Obama's mishap is that character puts the interests of others above its own. Just a few months from re-election, Obama could not afford to alienate a large number of people. He needed to play the fence so that he could still be favored by enough people to get back into office. Because of that mindset, he disregarded Netanyahu and the concerns of an American ally, Israel. Character is self-sacrificing. When there is a choice between hurting someone else and hurting yourself, character is always willing to take the fall. When we go to the voting booths, we want to be sure to elect a servant-leader; not a tyrant.
A third lesson we can draw from Obama's failure to meet with Netanyahu is that character produces consistent behavior. Up until this point, Obama had been willing to meet with Netanyahu when the Prime Minister visited the U.S. All of a sudden, though, he's "too busy." Character is the same today and tomorrow as it was yesterday. It is a foundational anchor to a person's soul. It does not change with circumstances. Character is consistent. When we are looking for a new leader of our country, we need to keep in our mind how consistent the candidates have been in their behavior. A candidate with a strong sense of character does not flip-flop.
One final lesson that we may draw from Obama's snub of Netanyahu is that character always owns up to its mistakes. Obama never admitted that he was trying to avoid Netanyahu. He still maintains that he simply has been "too busy" to meet with the Prime Minister. Even after all of the uproar, he still hasn't apologized. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Most of us even make terrible mistakes. But the greatest mistake of all is failing to own up to the mistakes that we do make. Character confesses. When Election Day rolls around, we need to look for a candidate who is willing to openly discuss the things he has done wrong. We need someone who seeks forgiveness rather than secrecy.
Now, I am not going to tell you who to vote for. I've discussed Obama's character flaws. Perhaps you could point out some instances in which Mitt Romney has demonstrated a lack of character. That's not the point. The point I am trying to make is that we, as voters, need to be cognizant of the depth of character our candidates have. We need to take an open and honest look about who we are voting into office and the underlying character that will affect their policies and decisions.
As voters preparing ourselves for the 2012 election, we need to be thinking about how each candidate's character is going to play into his decision-making going forward. There are issues that will arise within the next four years that we cannot even imagine. We must have a candidate whose character is prepared to handle crisis, tragedy and conflict without dissembling and caving on his convictions.
Let's bring it down to a more narrow and relevant focus. Both candidates running for Presidential office in 2012, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, are in agreement about dissolving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But neither candidate can answer the question, "What is going to replace them?" We need to have some sort of secondary market. Which candidate possesses the character that will drive him to make the best decisions regarding the housing crisis? Will it be Obama? Or will it be Romney? You decide.
Regardless of which candidate is best-suited for the role of President of the United States, we need to be willing to face facts. We as a country are in desperate trouble. Times are not easy. The future of our domestic economy is uncertain. The future of our foreign relations is uncertain. The future of our family values is uncertain. Character is the only attribute in a man that equips him to deal with such uncertainty. Going forward, we need a leader who will have the character to take on any challenge that arises.
Who will you be voting for come November … Barack Obama … Mitt Romney? I don't know about you, but I'm voting for character.
David Lykken is president of mortgage strategies and managing partner with Mortgage Banking Solutions. He has more than 35 years of industry experience and has garnered a national reputation, and has become a frequent guest on FOX Business News with Neil Cavuto, Stuart Varney, Liz Claman and Dave Asman with additional guest appearances on the CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV and radio. He may be reached by phone at (512) 977-9900, ext. 10, or e-mail [email protected]
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