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Why I Voted For Dole in 1996–And How I’ve Changed

December 9, 2021

As a 25-year-old raised (mostly) in rural western Missouri, I voted for Dole in 1996. The cultural affinities are clear when I think about my family, upbringing, leanings, and total educational background. Many of those are adequately covered in this NYT article about Dole’s hometown of Russell, Kansas. But I had also inherited what I now believe to be a flawed philosophy of voting.

At the time, for me, everything centered on a candidate’s known or perceived character. By this I mean ethics and morals, as well as manners of expression of them. I did believe in “small government” too, and I mostly supported Republicans, but character trumped both of those arenas. A Democrat with good character would get my vote too. All policies, I believed then, flowed from, and were determined by, a candidate’s character.

This philosophy meant that every election cycle involved a search for character clues. I needed large amounts biographical facts, as well as information about one’s decision-making process. If those felt comfortable to me, then that person ended up as my candidate. It is true that the character traits I desired largely fell within Republican values (as they advertised them), but character ruled my enthusiasm as well as my choices.

I believed that Dole, in 1996, had transcended his past flaws to become a person who then possessed that rare category of “presidential character.”

Character still matters to me, but policy matters more these days. I still have a philosophy of voting, but it centers on policy commitments and proposals. Character is down the list, but I’m concerned with it insofar as it bears on their commitment and follow-through on policies that matter. And my policy concerns now center on the common good, economic equality, the public square, human rights, peace, diplomacy, and raising up the oppressed.

Gone is my preoccupation with homespun character, individual rights, and protecting “small business” for the sake of it. Businesses, small and large, will betray the common good in a heartbeat, and care nothing for economic equality. – TL

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