The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens gives a quiz but does not give the answers. It’s yours to pass or fail:
- A compulsive liar with a persecution complex, a mania for secrecy, and a bald disdain for rules as they apply to lesser people.
- A bigoted braggart with a laughable grasp of public policy and leering manners of the kind you would expect from a barroom drunk.
- A glib moralizer who is personally detested by every single senator in his own party, never mind the other one.
- A Sixties radical preaching warmed-over socialism to people too young to know what it was or too stupid to understand what it does.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan perhaps said it best—that we’ve spent the better part of a generation defining “presidential” down. Mr. Stephens explains:
There was a time when some form of military experience or outstanding civilian service was considered a prerequisite for the presidency. Or when first-term senators did not presume to run for the White House without putting in time, paying dues, making friends and authoring some significant piece of legislation. Or when conspicuous character flaws or pending legal jeopardies were automatic and irrevocable disqualifications.”
But all that is in the past now, and the moment that happened can be precisely dated. It began with Bubba. It began when America made its first presidential-level accommodation with the mores of the 1960s, and when it made a self-conscious choice to redefine, and demote, the concept of character in the hierarchy of political virtues.
Let’s face it: If Mr. Clinton brought dishonor to the Oval Office, George W. Bush brought shallowness to it. Presidential aspirants were once expected to deliver finely tuned debating points about Quemoy and Matsu. After W, it became pedantic to expect candidates to know the names of the leaders of India and Pakistan.
We, for the moment, are a free country, and candidates are entitled to their ambitions. But on the flip side, each voter is responsible for his or her political choices. So how is it that America has come to choose this?
Read more from Mr. Stephens, who forewarns, “Now we are at the start of an electoral season that Americans say is of the utmost importance even as they make the most flippant choice of front-runners. And while a few thousand voters in Iowa may not be tantamount to the will of the American people, they aren’t immaterial to it, either.”
More on Election 2016 from Bret Stephens here:
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