Issues of Character

Here in Los Angeles, we have a mayoral election coming up. The names on the ballot include a handful of community activists and the incumbent, whose name no one can pronounce correctly, so most folks simply call him “the guy who was screwing that cute Mexican TV reporter.” Our current mayor — Antonio Villaraigosa, for the record — has accomplished almost none of his campaign promises involving transportation and education and tree planting, but he’s got enough special interest money flowing in to pay his divorce lawyers in cash, and he’s refusing to debate any of his challengers, because he knows that thanks to the labor unions and real estate developers and digital billboard tycoons, he’s already bought his way into a second-term.

Why, he correctly wonders, why even pretend to participate in the depressing charade that passes for participatory democracy? 

Meanwhile, Michael Phelps, Olympic hero and role-model and corporate shill, has been in mea culpa mode. His transgression, being photographed smoking pot, inspired Kellogg’s, the cereal maker, to the epiphany that Michael Phelps did not possess the type or quantity of character that they wanted associated with their Frosted Flakes. Never mind that it was exactly this character that allowed Phelps to train harder and prepare better than anyone in the history of competitive swimming. The disgraced champion’s handlers convinced him to apologize profusely for letting down his business partners and fans. No one dared compare Phelps’s character to the people who bought, sold, and published the tabloid photo. No one had the poor taste to point out that our nation’s absurd prohibition on marijuana is illogical and unjust, and that people of extraordinarily admirable character — Michael Phelps, among millions of others — enjoy the plant as much as some folks enjoy coffee and cigarettes.

Then there’s the artist manager who waits until the day his client’s painting is delivered to the gallery to ask for “research and preparation fees;” the soldier who tortures a prisoner because he’s “just following orders;” the husband who keeps a mistress, the college student who shoplifts fruit, the handyman who bills four hours instead of three.

And what does it say of our “character” that we elect and allow leaders to bankrupt our treasury on a banking system that resembles casino gambling and a fictitious “war on terror” that we’ll be paying for (and suffering from) for decades?

It’s enough to drive a fellow to drink. Or, god forbid, weed.

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