Thursday, January 22, 2004

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:


Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Excerpt from If by Rudyard Kipling

I would like to think of myself as a brave person. If I saw a toddler wander into the path of a speeding car, I hope that I would have the presence of mind to rush out, grab the back of the child's jumper, and pull him/her back to safety. Perhaps I would have the strength to stand up against oppression should I truly come face to face with it.

All of that is just talk, however, until you actually have to make the decision. That split second where you act, correctly or incorrectly, or not act at all. I have yet to face such a moment where what courage I do possess would be measured.

I have, however, faced several moments where other qualities have been tested. My honesty, my loyalty, my integrity. I don't think that I am deluding myself to say that I have done mostly right in those situations. In those places where I have done wrong, I apologize, knowing that I do not wish to be the type of person who would do those things.

Sometimes a person comes up with a good old-fashioned Freudian Slip, an inadvertant slip of the tounge that seems to reveal more than the speaker wished to show. Other times, people say things while drunk and use their inebriation to excuse themselves as not really having meant it. In some cases, we just blame the heat of the moment. Lee Harris wrote an article at Tech Central Station podering how Howard Dean's "concession" speech and the now infamous holler that he cut loose with.

Just how much should we allow a single outburst to influence our opinion of a candidate? The voters in Vermont seem rather put off by the display, at least judging by the poll numbers. Lee Harris describes the situation this way:

Anyone can win, just as anyone can be defeated, and still not give us a clue to their true metal. But for a man to be badly defeated when he expected to win handily, that is certain to be a moment for the revelation of character, and in Governor Dean's case, it offered him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to let the American voters know whether or not he possesses those otherwise hard-to-detect long term virtues so necessary to lead our nation in a time of crisis -- virtues such steadiness and magnanimity, endurance and wisdom.

This last week, unfortunately for his electoral prospects, Howard Dean revealed the stuff that he was made of and did so in a matter of minutes; and -- fairly or unfairly -- many of those who watched his performance found themselves convinced that they now knew what Governor Dean would act like in a moment of genuine national crisis, and were not assured by the insight that had been inadvertently given them.

Statements that come with little thought behind them carry far more information about a person's character than any premeditated and committe approved press release. Granted, there is a limit. One can't fairly put more thought into parsing another's words than the person made in saying them. Words in the heat of the moment, and that certainly was a hot moment in which Dr. Dean found himself, show how a person deals with the heat. Dr. Dean did not impress.

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