Character is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of a life, governing moral choices and infusing personal and professional conduct. It’s an elusive thing, easily cloaked or submerged by the theatrics of a presidential campaign, but unexpected moments can sometimes reveal the fibers from which it is woven.
Last week, Mitt Romney had just such a moment. His rash, crass and blatantly dishonest response to violent protests in Libya and Egypt exposed a feckless and contemptible character that places political advantage above patriotism and values winning at any cost over courage, honor and truth.
As mobs attacked U.S. embassies in the Middle East, Romney rushed to use the moment as a cudgel against his rival, President Obama. He might have waited to find out whether any diplomats had been injured or Marines attacked. He did not. He might have waited until a day of mourning in commemoration of national tragedy — 9/11 — was over. He did not.
Instead, as violence escalated and lives hung in the balance, Romney jarringly condemned the president, claiming that “the administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Later, he stood by that lie, contending that Obama coddles and apologizes to the nation’s enemies. His shamelessness overshadowed his belated attempts to acknowledge the deaths of four courageous Americans — including Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya — who gave their lives in service to their country.
In a closely fought political campaign, candidates often exaggerate their rivals’ shortcomings, blame them for circumstances beyond their control and accuse them of recklessness or timidity (or both). That’s politics.
Indeed, by the end of the week, some leading Republicans were joining the criticism of the president’s foreign policy, hoping to help extricate the GOP nominee from the hole he’d dug for himself. John McCain, for example, claimed the Middle East protests — perhaps spurred by a despicable U.S.-made Web video slandering Islam’s founding prophet — could be attributed to “American weakness and the president’s inability to lead.”