Thank God for Bill Bennett, who has uttered the word that Bob Dole dare not speak.
Those who plead that character doesn't matter in a president are indicting themselves and revealing their own paucity of character. Dole told ABC's Ted Koppel last week that he was reluctant to raise the president's lack of character because "I want to be at peace with myself."
Dole is supposed to be running for president, not Mr. Congeniality. Perhaps the next Republican convention should be in Atlantic City where candidates could parade in bathing suits and pledge, if elected, to strive for world peace and work with children.
George Bush played the kinder and gentler game, which is why Jim Wright and congressional Democrats chewed up his "no new taxes" pledge and spit it in his face. By preferring the endorsement of his adversaries, Bush is watching from the sidelines as Clinton finishes what could have been Bush's second term.
Let's hope that Bennett, who isn't running a popularity contest, gave Dole a kick in the pants before tonight's debate. Co-chairman of Dole's campaign, Bennett told reporters last week: "I believe this administration is one of the most corrupt in recent American history . . . . It doesn't matter if (Dole) talks about (violations of public trust) or if Jack Kemp talks about them. It matters that somebody talks about them."
Democrats were all over Reagan and Bush and those in their administrations, trying to make character an issue. Remember the "sleaze factor"? Various Democrat-led committees investigated Cabinet officials and the Iran-contra affair, charging patterns of corruption and lawbreaking. Did the media brand them mean-spirited? Not to my knowledge. Politics is a contact sport. If Dole can't stand the heat, he shouldn't have entered the race.
What does it say about a nation that cares more about a baseball player who spits on an umpire or a kid who interferes with an outfielder during a playoff game than it does about the integrity of its leader?
Good character leads to honesty and integrity. Bad character produces deceit and lies. If a person has bad character, on what basis do we judge whether he is telling the truth? Whether the subject is taxes or the size of government, marital fidelity or personal ethics, character matters.
Dole doesn't have to talk about Paula Jones or Dick Morris. He can stick with the number of people under investigation in this administration, which Clinton promised would be the most ethical in history. What about the FBI files and Travelgate? He could remind us about the 1972 re-election of Richard Nixon in which Nixon's character flaws were overlooked. They led to his downfall in the Watergate affair. Do we want to repeat that mistake with Clinton over events collectively known as, but not limited to, Whitewater?
Dole should read from the chapter on honesty in Bennett's phenomenally successful "The Book of Virtues": "To be honest is to be real, genuine, authentic and bona fide. To be dishonest is to be partly feigned, forged, fake or fictitious. . . . Honesty imbues lives with openness, reliability and candor; it expresses a disposition to live in the light. Dishonesty seeks shade, cover or concealment. It is a disposition to live partly in the dark."
Honestly, now, which candidate comes to mind when you think of concealment, cover and living partly in the dark? Character is the issue Dole should raise and keep in the forefront. If he is afraid, he deserves to lose. Better to go down speaking the truth than desiring the praise of the deceitful. If Dole is worried about his place in history, he should remember that history's judgment on the timid has not been kind.