BIDLACK | Does honesty matter anymore in a president?

Author: Hal Bidlack - May 29, 2018 - Updated: May 30, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Readers of a certain age will recall that in 1976, then California Governor Ronald Reagan did what many in politics thought was both foolish and disloyal – he ran a campaign for president against the sitting Republican, Gerald Ford. It was a bitter battle, with acrimony and insults all around. Many political thinkers believe that Mr. Reagan’s challenge cost Mr. Ford victory, and put Jimmy Carter in the White House. Mr. Reagan made it there a short four years later, so for him, it worked out, I guess. But I ask that you recall another figure from that time, Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker.

At the time, Senator Schweiker was a moderate to liberal Republican. Yes, dear readers, there used to be moderate Republicans. Senator Schweiker was respected and well-liked, and his (for a Republican) progressive views seemed to fit his state well. But then he got a call from Governor Reagan.

It seems in his effort to win the GOP presidential nomination away from President Ford, Governor Reagan decided to shake things up, and breaking with tradition, announced that he, if nominated, would pick Senator Schweiker as his VP. This shocked the Republican base, and – truth be told – Senator Schweiker, who had never met or talked to Mr. Reagan. But the Senator appears to have liked the sound of vice president more than senator, so he accepted and promptly began to renounce his previous progressive positions. He went from being a liberal to a conservative, impressing few and irritating those on both ends of the spectrum. I recall a political cartoon of the day, in which the senator was being interviewed, and was asked how long it took him to renounce everything he claimed he believed in. In the cartoon, he replied “quite a few days, the paperwork is tremendous.”

I bring up Senator Schweiker because I see quite a few Americans doing what might be called “pulling a Schweiker” in their own lives. I’ve written previously on the dishonesty that permeates the Trump White House, and the remarkable trail of outright lies the president himself has spoken. Yet much of his base sticks with him. Now, I understand some of that. We don’t always get the candidate we want, and we make do with the best fit. I didn’t agree with President Obama on everything, but I preferred him to the alternatives in Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney.

But I never doubted the basic honesty and integrity of McCain or Romney. They were, and are, good men with whom I disagree. Which brings me, awkwardly I admit, to the evangelical Christians that hold our president tightly to their hearts.

Perhaps it is abortion? I drive past our local Planned Parenthood branch regularly, and there are often protesters outside, demanding defunding. And President Trump has at least given lip service to their demands. Perhaps it is defense? Mr. Trump created a myth (lied?) during his campaign that the military was a sham, led by generals and admirals which Mr. Trump proclaimed to be dumber than him. Perhaps it was being anti-Union? Huzzah for the flag?

Regardless of what brought the evangelicals to support Mr. Trump, some facts are clear, even from a White House that adopts “alternate facts” with ease. Mr. Trump is thrice married, with pretty clear support that he was not, shall we say, entirely monogamous. He bragged (in “locker room talk,” he claims) of forcing himself on women against their will. He walked in to another locker room at the beauty pageant he owned, bragging about seeing young women nearly naked. His reference to “Two Corinthians” instead of “2ndCorinthians” might suggest he was less familiar with the Bible than he claims – Mr. Trump would later blame Tony Perkins (a man who likely knows his Bible) for the gaffe, saying Mr. Perkins had “written it out for me.”

In my old line of work, as a career military officer, honestly was pretty darn important. As a nuclear missile launch officer, truth had to be as assumed as it was essential. When Bill Clinton was caught lying, I told my colleagues that I felt he should resign, even though I mostly agreed with his policies, and felt that the GOP – dare I say “witch hunt?” – was unreasonable. Honestly matters in nukes, in military service, and most certainly in the White House.

Which brings me back to those who profess to hold profoundly important religious views yet continue to embrace a dishonest and sexually abusive president. At what point do you start the paperwork to renounce what you claimed to believe in? I hear the paperwork is tremendous.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.