Most conservative people I’ve known agree that character is important. But it seems to me that, when it comes to our political leaders, people think of “character” too narrowly.
They think that if someone is a “good family man,” if he goes to church, if he behaves appropriately in dealing with his neighbors, he’s got “good character.”
But I’d say when we’re dealing with someone entrusted with political power, that’s only part of the picture. We need to ask also about the “character” of what that politician supports in the world.
No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump here. It is, rather, about the man I’m running to replace in the Virginia State Senate that I’m thinking.
With Trump, his character in his personal life and the character he fosters in the wider world with the powers of his office seem pretty much the same.
It’s different with my opponent, Mark Obenshain. As far as I know, my opponent, Mark Obenshain, shows “good character” outside of his political role. Nothing I’m aware of contradicts the notion that he’s a good family man and a well-behaved member of his community. In my own face-to-face contacts with Mr. Obenshain, he’s conducted himself like a “decent guy.”
Nonetheless, I’ve come to see the issue of “character” as at the heart of the electoral contest between him and me.
How would you describe the character of someone who works to enrich the already very wealthy and to impoverish those who are struggling to make ends meet? How does serving the force of greed fit into the notion of “good character?”
That’s the question raised by Mr. Obenshain’s insistence that minimum wage workers stay stuck in Virginia at a level so low that it keeps them in poverty, and by Obenshain’s efforts to keep Virginia workers from being able to negotiate with their employers on a level playing field to get fair terms for their employment. (All this at a time when wages for blue-collar workers have stagnated for decades, and where the richest have tripled their share of the national wealth.)
Inflicting injustice to satisfy greed doesn’t look like “good character” to me.
It might be said in Obenshain’s defense that in all this he’s just gone along with his political party. He grew up part of a prominent Republican family, and maybe Obenshain would have preferred that the Republican Party had remained as decent as it used to be.
But I grew up in a Republican family, too. And to my mind, good character says that when one’s party goes bad, one remains loyal to what’s good. Sticking with the party line – perhaps out of ambition – when that party has lost its concern for justice looks to me like a defect of character.
So also with Mr. Obenshain’s going along when his party dictated that decent health care coverage should be denied to 400,000 Virginians. (The apparent reasons for this were discreditable: 1) to keep a Democratic president from achieving anything, and 2) to keep Virginians from recognizing that, with constructive politics, government might be their tool and not their enemy.)
As a result of the efforts of Obenshain and his party, roughly 200 Virginians died during the years they succeeded in preventing those Virginians from getting health care coverage. And who knows how many families went bankrupt?
Obenshain likewise has just followed his marching orders from the Republican Party to prevent any constructive response from Virginia’s government to the challenge of climate change. Big fossil fuel interests, who are big donors to him and his fellow Republicans, are so driven by greed that they’re willing to sacrifice a livable future for our children and grandchildren for their own short-term profits.
And Mr. Obenshain is willing to serve that greed, rather than the vital interests of our posterity, and indeed of life on earth generally.
What kind of character does that show? Isn’t that the ultimate sell-out?
On Nov. 5, the voters of this district will have a choice. When they make that choice, they should remember this: if I get a chance to serve the people of this district in the state Senate, I will be governed by the same values and moral principles in my political actions – caring about people, loving justice, compassion for any who are suffering – that I bring to my relationships with my family and my friends.
“Good character” must include that kind of integrity.
April Moore, a Shenandoah County resident, is running as a Democrat for the Virginia State Senate (District-26) against Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.