I seem to be in a minority: personally, I consider character to be all-important. Granted, this may be due to the fact that no candidates really agree with me on the issues -- I'm well outside the political mainstream, with a mildly libertarian bent tempered by lacking the common libertarian faith that markets solve all problems. But still, I'm much more inclined to vote for a candidate of strong character, even if I disagree with their specific views.
I find myself wondering if Democrats have been entrapped by the Republican definition of "character", and this is the result. For many years, it was taken as an assumption by many people that, regardless of his bad decisions, George Bush was a man of better *character* than Bill Clinton. I never understood that: it's been obvious to me from the beginning that the reverse is true.
Bill Clinton had much of what I want when I say "character": he's thoughtful, moderate, practical, modest by political standards (that is, willing to back off when he makes a mistake), at least halfway honest, and prone to good spirits. His only weakness was that he is a man of great appetites in all senses of that word -- a real weakness to be sure, but not one that was likely to cause great disasters on the national or world stage. He's human and normal; I can appreciate that.
Bush, by contrast, has proven himself exactly what I always thought him to be: paranoid, weak and cowardly as all bullies are, bullheaded to the point of irrationality, too prone to trust those who would use him, obsessive and stiff-spined as only a former addict can be, and far too capable of fooling himself into believing anything he wants. He's a man who values loyalty above all else -- certainly above such minor issues as competence. He is a man of *terrible* character, salvaged only by the fact that I think he largely believes the nonsense he spouts, which is at least one form of honesty.
So yeah -- I think character matters a great deal. I think it's much of the difference between a president who proves competent and otherwise. And it's probably going to drive my votes in this election.
The Republicans are mostly a disaster character-wise, and that's what makes me so nervous about the whole thing. Giuliani is closest to me on the issues of the bunch, but he's a fascist by instinct -- Bush's very worst trait in my book, and one that I don't want to see continued. Romney is an egomaniac who scares the *hell* out of me, because I genuinely think the man's a little sociopathic (and anyone still poo-pooh'ing his chances isn't paying any damned attention). Of the lot, the only one whose character I actually like is Mike Huckabee, curiously -- I disagree with him on most issues, but I *respect* him in a way I don't any of the others.
The good news is that I think all three leading Democrats are of at least decent character, although none are perfect. Hilary Clinton is both smart and strong, although a tad too bought into the Washington mindset and unlikely to change the things I most want changed. Edwards is, I believe, pretty sincere, and it's refreshing to see so much passion in a candidate, but he's shown himself a demagogue, and I never trust that style. Obama is the clear winner for me, for many of the same reasons I was so fond of Bill Clinton: again, thoughtful and moderate, a man who deals with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it was, and who learns pretty quickly from his mistakes.
Above all, though, Obama is something I haven't seen in a while: a politician who is genuinely inspiring, who actually believes that the point of politics is to make the world a *better* place, and who thinks that can be done. He has a genuine decency we haven't seen in the White House since Jimmy Carter, and I think he lacks the naivete that torpedoed Carter's presidency. I think he's the one person who could unwind the paranoia and insanity that has overtaken the country over the past seven years, and switch us over into the alternate reality where the 21st century is a decent neighborhood.
I'm realistic about the odds, and if Clinton wins the primary I'll vote for her in the election -- I don't think she'd be a disaster, just a bit business-as-usual. But the election I *want* to see is Obama vs. Huckabee. I think Obama would be a truly great president, someone who really could be the uniter than Bush claimed he would be. And while I'd spend his entire term of office fighting against everything Huckabee stands for, the man at least appears to be *decent*, which is more than I can say about the other Republican alternatives. I actually suspect that, set against a solidly Democratic Congress that prevented him from doing anything extreme, Huckabee would do a decent job. And yes, that is entirely because I *do* believe that character is the most important thing...