When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Maya Angelou

When we attach yourself to someone’s coat-tails, whether his trajectory rises or falls, our view never changes.

All we see is ass.

I heard a joke once:

A wealthy man meets a gorgeous woman. “Pardon me, madam, but would you go to bed with me for a million dollars?” The woman’s eyes brighten, and she says, “Of course.” He then asks her if she would do it for one dollar. “Of course not, sir! What do you think I am?” He replies, “That has already been established; now I’m just trying to get the best price.”

One of my favorite scenes in House of Cards is one in which three candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination are debating one another. One, Frank Underwood, the un-elected sitting president; Jackie Sharp, a Representative in the House and the majority whip; and the third, Heather Dunbar, the Solicitor General, are all vying for the party nomination for President.

Jackie Sharp is ambitious; she has already shown that she will throw those she considers family under the bus if it means she can gain power. Prior to the debate, Underwood has given her instructions: she is to be the “pit bull” so that he can remain “presidential.” I can’t remember if it was explicitly said or merely implied, but the “good doggy” award is the Vice President slot on the ticket.

This is what she wants; this is her price, and she has been bought. Because Underwood cannot call a woman “sexist” without appearing ridiculous, he instructs his pit bull to do so. He also demands that she calls out Heather Dunbar’s hypocrisy by mentioning that Dunbar’s children go to private school while their mother calls for “equal opportunity” for everyone. In a pre-debate meeting, Sharp tells Underwood that she is uncomfortable with the whole line of attack: calling another woman sexist, bringing children into politics, and attacking her for her children? Sharp points out that her own step-children also attend private school, and that makes her a hypocrite as well.

This isn’t her first dealing with Underwood.

It was at his urging that she purposely took actions that hurt a family friend in order to get ahead. While she does not know what he is fully capable of (at times, I question that even his wife does) Sharp does know his character. She has been bought with gilded promises. Underwood does not have relationships, he rules dynamics. He is the sun around which all planets orbit. A planet–be it lobbyist, addicted Congressman, or naive reporter–has only one purpose: to serve his needs and to circle around him. When the planet is no longer useful, after Underwood has burned it up, he tosses it aside like a half-smoked cigarette. Sometimes the damage he inflicts is merely to reputation; at other times, it proves fatal.

This is his character. This is who he is.

In the debate, Underwood’s pit bull comes out snarling as if she just slipped her leash. She tears into Dunbar, attacking her just as the President instructed. In a surprise pivot (at least to Sharp), Underwood then states, in that Southern insult-posed-as-a-question way, if it’s true that Sharp’s children go to private school. He then goes for the second slam of a one-two punch by asking, “Wouldn’t that make you a hypocrite as well?” She loses her composure, unable to regain it for the rest of the debate.

She doesn’t understand his treachery. After all, she’s always done what he has asked. She’s on his side.

But Underwood is Underwood.

To expect him to behave any differently is folly on Sharp’s part.

In a world where the current political circus tells us that character doesn’t matter as long as it serves our purpose, and that integrity doesn’t matter as long as we get what we want, we must silence the circus barkers. Character should matter; integrity should matter.

We get exactly what we vote for.

If those who seek power show us their character, we should believe them, or we’ll find ourselves siding with the very opposite of the “better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln put it. When we can see base action after base action, again and again, name-calling and tantrum-throwing, violence and cruelty, but still find it acceptable, we have become part of the lowest common denominator:

We have entered into the agreement

that such behavior is acceptable.

A lot of people feel that they vote for one candidate over another based on issues, such as pro-life or pro-choice, a larger social safety net or more limited government, et cetera. It simply is not true. We vote FOR the person and his or her characteristics, good and bad, so that our chosen representative will do as we want.

We vote for the means, not the end.

When we choose indecency for the sake of expediency, when we choose those with a history of broken promises and corruption because they make us feel powerful—THAT is what we are voting for. Because the ends—what we thought we were voting for—may never come to pass. After all, if we have seen their moral flexibility or changing position, we can see that they can be bought. It really doesn’t matter if it is for one dollar or a million.

Their position will ally itself with the highest bidder.

And, should we discover that those whom we have elected have lied to us, why are we surprised? They’ve lied to others, do we believe that we are special, that we are somehow protected because we’re not one of “those people” that they stand against?

Jackie Sharp knew Francis Underwood’s character, and yet she still attached herself to his coat-tails. Underwood, the real attack dog, bit her because it served his purpose.

If we see those running for office who exhibit racism, corruption, homophobia, THAT is what we’re voting for. Our hope that our issue will be addressed in the way that we wish is our price. This is how we are bought. They show us who they are with every statement to the press, with every vote and action. If we do not demand integrity, promises mean nothing; a higher bidder will sway them. If we do not demand basic decency, then this indecency will be amplified. It will represent us; after all, what we permit is what we promote.

If we choose to elevate the worst of us, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We will no longer be a civilized society.

Civilization possesses a basic level of civility.

Electing uncivilized people to represent us makes us uncivilized. It strips away what once bound us together. It changes the way we see such behavior; it normalizes it, and, worse, the behavior propagates. It destroys our ability to solve problems because we can no longer talk to one another civilly.

That is our price.

Does it do any good to call someone out like that? I don’t have an answer to that, but I do lean toward “no.” Those who agree with the behavior will deny or excuse it. Those who disagree with it already know that it’s unacceptable.

And yet, if we do not call it out, isn’t our silence agreement?

Perhaps our vote is our voice, a means by which we can condemn the behavior. If we continue to vote them in, if we attach ourselves to the coat-tails of the indecent and uncivilized, eventually, we’ll be bitten. After all, it’s his or her interests that will be served, not ours. Not “we the people.”

We shouldn’t be surprised.

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