Character does count. But character doesn’t mean compressing all the bad things a candidate has done over the past forty years onto a sheet of paper and toting them up. They’re running for president, not saint, even if some of their handlers would have you believe otherwise.
Try an experiment: Think of people you know in your life who are absolute saints, who have never done a bad thing in their entire lives. If you can’t think of any, that ends the experiment for you and my point is made, so feel free to skip the rest of this chapter.
If you can think of some, ask yourself this: Are these the kind of people from whom you would seek practical advice? Even if you trust them with your car keys, would you trust them with the country? Can you even stand them for more than ten minutes at a time?
Here’s another one: Think of movers and shakers you admire, past or present. List all of their generally attributed bad points and see if it changes your opinion. If you can’t think of any offhand, start with John F. Kennedy, Charles Revson, Jimmy Hoffa or General Patton.
There’s an old story about a woman who goes into a butcher shop and asks to see a certain chicken in the display cabinet. She squeezes it, sticks a finger into various orifices, shakes it and sniffs it all over.
"Not fresh," she pronounces as she hands it back.
"Hey, lady:" the butcher says, "Could you pass such a test?"
Ask yourself the same question: Could you pass such a test? Consider yourself, if you were running for president, assuming you think you might make a pretty good one. Make a list of every rotten thing you’ve done since your (early) adolescence. Then cross off the ones you think are forgivable, either because they’re not all that bad, or were isolated errors or poor judgment calls, or you’re simply not like that anymore, or they shouldn’t make any difference when it comes to judging your capacity to run the country.
And then cut the candidates the same slack you cut yourself.