A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Mike Farrell: With so many things off track, including #MeToo, the question is — what’s our character?

The #Me Too train has run off the tracks.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I have always believed in the equality of women. In my 50-year career, I have worked for two women, both of them skilled and intelligent leaders. I learned loads from them.

I am revolted by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world who use their power and position to demand sex from young women seeking acting jobs. If he is as guilty as his accusers say, Weinstein belongs in jail for a long, long time. Eighty-seven women came forth to accuse him, according to a USA Today story in October 2017.

Despite the disgusting excesses of Weinstein’s behavior – and others like him – I think the #Me Too train has gone off the tracks.

The movement provided the country with a valuable service, pulling back the curtain on the crude and primitive behavior of boorish men poisoned by their successes and egos.

The prime example of this excess: former Vice President Joe Biden. Two women have come forth saying his behavior has disqualified him from running for president next year. None of the behavior they accuse the former vice president sounds criminal unless touching others is now outlawed. They also have failed to disclose why they didn’t ask Biden to back away from them, keep their hands off of them or even walk away. Don’t they have some responsibility?

I’ve never been much of a Joe Biden fan. Journalists are taught plagiarism is one of the worst unethical practices. Evidence surfaced during his 1988 presidential campaign that Biden had plagiarized a speech by a member of the British parliament. That ended his campaign. But he was elected to the United States Senate from Delaware six times.

Joe Biden

Another side of the Biden story grabs my heart. Few public figures of his generation have suffered such devastating losses. Weeks after his election to the Senate in 1972, his wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident and his sons injured. While he was vice president, his older son Beau, then the attorney general of Delaware, died of cancer.

No one survives those losses without suffering heartaches that time will never heal. But Joe Biden handled those devastating losses with grace.

Nonetheless, As Barack Obama’s vice president considers a third run for the presidency, he’d be wise to change his behavior. The culture has changed, and behavior once acceptable is no more.

His actions are far from that of Weinstein or even that of President Donald J. Trump.

The 2020 election should focus on issues that are important to the American people. Our democracy has had too many elections focused on personality with not nearly enough on consideration of character, vision, and issues.

Yes, it’s time to rediscover a lesson we, as a people, seem to have forgotten. Character matters. Who a person is under her skin is the essential person. If that character is stained with immorality, unethical behavior, a propensity for lying, then good ideas are useless.

Pogo, from a comic strip by Walt Kelley, syndicated by Post-Hall

And therein lies the dilemma: Where – and what – is the American character these days?

Children are abused and murdered by their parents. Parents are murdered by their children. For no discernible reason, people shoot up schools, taking the lives of children and teens. People commit suicide at alarming rates and overdose repeatedly until they die.

While we demand Joe Biden change his behavior, perhaps we all need to consider whether our behavior meets the standard of a people deserving of democracy –  not that of House Speaker Nancy Peluso, not President Trump, not Harvey Weinstein.

Pogo, Walt Kelly’s possum who lived in the Okefenokee Swamp, famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

If a cartoonist understood that decades ago, what’s taking the rest of us so long?

Dr. Mike Farrell is interim director of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media. He is former managing editor of The Kentucky Post and a founder of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism, publisher of The NKyTribune and KyForward. He lives in Latonia. The views here are his own.

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