Not interested in character

Published October 20, 2022

By D. G. Martin

“We’re not Really Interested in Character” is the title of a chapter in a 1987 book about the corruptive nature of political fundraising.

The recent attacks on the character of Georgia’s U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker reminded me of a chapter that appeared in ““Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process,” by Brooks Jackson.

The chapter tells the story of a naïve congressional candidate making an introductory visit to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, “an old-line liberal group,” to introduce himself to the organization and its political action committee. The NCEC representative told the new candidate that “the kind of candidates they like included former congressman John Jenrette of South Carolina.”

 Jenrette was enormously popular with his largely black constituency because he had been “an unfailing supporter of civil rights.”

 But Jenrette was headed for jail for taking bribes from an FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik.

The NCEC representative said Jenrette was one of their best candidates. The visitor responded, “How could you support him so enthusiastically, given his character and the things that everybody knew about him?”

The NCEC representative replied, “Well, we’re not really interested in character; we’re interested in votes.”

What does all this have to do with Herschel Walker?

Like Jenrette, Walker is popular.

Like Jenrette, he has political positions that are supported by powerful political operators.

Like Jenrette, questions have arisen about his character. Walker’s former wife has alleged domestic violence; he has children born out of wedlock, and although Walker opposes abortion under any circumstances, a former girlfriend says that he paid for her abortion.

These concerns are not new, but Walker, as least until recently, has not faced up to them.

According to an October 14 article in The New York Times, Walker “privately denied the abortion, but instead of discussing a strategy to handle the claim, he maintained that the details would never become public. At times he would argue that if his ex-girlfriend’s account did leak out, it would not be believed because he had a child with the woman, according to the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

Before the Republican primary in Georgia, pro-life Republicans like Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and a former state party chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, explained Walker’ s appeal. “If your name is Herschel Walker, and you’re a pro-life conservative, with his name ID, celebrity and impressive fund-raising ability, the primary was over the day he entered the race.” 

Once Walker won the primary, pro-life Republicans such as Reed continued or enhanced their support for Walker even though his alleged activities conflicted with their values.

For instance, last week Walker’s son, Christian Walker wrote on his Twitter account to accuse his father of being a hypocrite and a liar, “He has four kids, four different women, wasn’t in the house raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women. Do you care about Christian values?” he asked and then concluded. “I’m done, done. Everything has been a lie.”

Why are people like Reed overlooking Walker’s multiple character problems?

They might say, like the NCEC representative in 1984, that they are not interested in the candidate’s character. They are interested in votes, especially the Senate vote next year that will determine which party will control that body’s leadership.

 Whatever character problems he may have, Walker, if elected, can be counted on to support Reed’s program, something, for Reed that is much more important than the character of one individual.

And, by the way, in case you did not know or guess, that naïve candidate in Jackson’s book was me.

D.G. Martin, a lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.