Trust me on this

Joe Queenan is a New York-based writer.

Several years ago, I wrote a story for GQ magazine in which I admitted that there were certain public figures I disliked because I could not stand looking at their faces. The smirking Pat Robertson, Jimmy Carter and his paste-on grin and the perennially pouting Boston Celtics guard Danny Ainge (now the team’s general manager) all fell into this category, as did the truculent scamp Pete Rose and the smarmy Paul McCartney.

Despite its juvenile premise, the article had a serious subtext. It was a plea for the public to stop pretending that they disliked public figures because of their values or attitudes and admit that, in many cases, they simply couldn’t stand the sight of them. For example, the reason so many young people view John Tesh as an emissary of Satan is not because of his appalling New Age music. It’s because he looks like Prince Charming, the lantern-jawed ninny in “Shrek.”

These thoughts are occasioned by a recent New York Times article discussing the potential fallout on tight congressional races in the hinterland if Hillary Clinton wins her party’s presidential nomination. The article focused on several right-leaning districts where, because of local voters’ intense dislike of Clinton, moderate Democratic incumbents might lose seats they won by razor-thin margins in 2006. To quote a GOP county commissioner in Kansas, “The people I talk to ... just don’t think she can be trusted.”

Now wait just a minute. Is this another case in which we’re fooling ourselves about what bothers us? I mean, it is entirely possible that Clinton cannot be trusted. Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, that mysterious $100,000 profit in commodities trades a few years back and her puzzling marriage to the world’s best-known philanderer are all subjects that will be revisited repeatedly between now and next year’s Democratic convention.


But the idea that fence-sitting voters would or should withhold their votes from Clinton because she is, God forbid, not trustworthy implies that this is somehow an aberrant characteristic for a presidential candidate. Of all the things I have read about this never-ending campaign, this is by far the most hilarious. If you can’t stand the sight of Hillary Clinton because she’s too liberal, too rich, too haughty, went to Wellesley or simply because she’s a woman, at least be man enough to come out and admit it. Don’t hide behind some bogus “trustworthiness” rationalization.

Consider the candidacy of Rudy Giuliani in light of the trustworthiness issue. First, there’s the little problem of his extramarital affairs, his announcing his divorce from Donna Hanover at a news conference -- the first she heard of it -- and the unauthorized, unpublicized security details assigned to his girlfriend when he was mayor of New York. Then there’s his consulting work for Middle Eastern firms; the fudged, misleading or inaccurate numbers he’s been throwing around during debates; and his calamitous decision to name Bernard Kerik as New York City police commissioner.

Is this a man voters can trust? Ask one of his ex-wives. Ask his children. For that matter, ask George W. Bush, who took it on faith that Kerik would make a fine anti-terrorism czar and nominated him on Giuliani’s suggestion -- only to have Kerik withdraw his name a week later amid a raft of embarrassing revelations.

How does John Edwards fare when viewed through the prism of trust? Not so well. The champion of the working class, the millworker’s son who loves to flaunt his proletarian roots, Edwards now lives in a McMansion the size of Antarctica and, shortly after his abortive 2004 vice presidential campaign, went to work for a mammoth hedge fund, one of those ingenious plutocratic vehicles that helps widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots that Edwards is forever ranting about. Trustworthy? I think not.

The list of not especially trustworthy candidates goes on and on. Joe Biden once lifted a campaign speech virtually whole-cloth from the British politician Neil Kinnock, an authentic working-class sort whose personality Biden shamefully attempted to mime. Mitt Romney, who never stops changing his position on gay rights, abortion, the role of religion in public life and the threat posed to our society by illegal aliens, is now in trouble for employing ... uh ... illegal aliens.

Even everyone’s favorite rube, Mike Huckabee, has a few skeletons in the closet: an amazing willingness to accept “gifts” from donors while governor of Arkansas, a hypocritical position on illegal aliens and a sneaky attempt to portray Romney as a devotee of a faith that believes that Satan and Jesus are brothers.

It would be nice to believe that Barack Obama is above the fray in this arena. But as various media outlets have reported, Obama’s first autobiography -- yes, he has written two, one more than Julius Caesar, Samuel Johnson or Alice B. Toklas felt the need for -- bristles with half-truths and portraits of composite characters and events that apparently never happened. More recently, his account of his hardscrabble days in New York have come under critical review. Toss in the mysterious real estate deal one of his supporters cooked up with the Obama family, and his self-confessed drug use, and we find that the audaciously hopeful Obama belongs in much the same category as the people he is running against.

Finally, even though everyone would like to believe that John McCain is as honest as the day is long, McCain was one of the five senators embroiled in the Keating Five scandal back in the 1980s. He may be trustworthy now. He wasn’t then.

I do not draw attention to these facts to chastise the candidates but to chastise the public. The idea that anyone would base his or her vote on a candidate’s “trustworthiness” is absurd. Most politicians started out as lawyers, silver-tongued barristers whose very job description involves bending the truth, tergiversation and, sometimes, outright lying.

The idea that anyone would reject Hillary Clinton, a lawyer, in favor of Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer, or John Edwards, a lawyer, or Barack Obama, a lawyer, or Mitt Romney, a lawyer, is pitiful. Of course these people aren’t trustworthy. They’re lawyers. What kind of a country do you think we’re running here?