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Forget Character; What About the Issues?

Regarding the opinion-page article "Character Is the Core of Good Leadership," March 26: The author's praise for independent voters who disregard party lines in favor of the "best character" reminds me that I was given the same advice as a youngster. It's a rule that appeals to Americans' self-reliance and individualism. The trouble is, as we struggle to choose from a variety of meticulously designed "characters," we send hopelessly mixed signals on matters of social, military, and monetary policy.

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Quoting Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's glib formula for identifying obscenity, the author claims we know good character when we see it. Such anti-intellectual advice appeals to people who don't want to burden themselves with the complexity of political issues. And what's worse, in practice, it doesn't work. Running through his list of "bad character" presidents, he acknowledges that such insight into their weaknesses came after the elections or even "years later" when the historical analysis and biographies were written.

Emphasizing "character" sounds noble, but the people who run for president are well camouflaged behind the thick fabric of advertisements, speech writers, handlers, and spin doctors. We can't know them much better than we know famous actors through their movie roles. Voting for the party doesn't flatter our exaggerated opinion of our insight, but it provides a more constructive way to support a set of articulated goals, principles, and policy positions that will affect our lives.

Ron Charles St. Louis

Instilling high values in children

I was intrigued by the front-page article "Push for a 'V-Chip' on Library Videos," Feb. 29. But will restricting children's access to libraries' R-rated titles solve the problem?

It's a good idea that libraries put restrictions on videos that may not be appropriate for children, but I have my doubts that this will solve the dilemma that parents have when shielding their children from media filth. This issue goes beyond just library videos.

What about video stores, movie theaters, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet? Every one of those carries something that parents don't want their children viewing, listening to, or reading.

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It isn't the library's responsibility to keep youth away from the "inappropriate subject matter" that they carry; nor is it the responsibility of the video store, the movie theater, or any other media-circulating organization. Granted, such organizations must place restrictions on some productions. However, it is the parents' responsibility to teach their children that such morally questionable material is not necessarily suitable. Fighting to have library video access restricted is a small battle compared with the war one must wage against the media.

If parents care enough about what their children come in contact with, then they'll take the time to instill in them some higher values rather than blame society for their shortcomings.

James D. Beers Rexburg, Idaho

Why race classification isn't needed

In the opinion-page article "For a 'Multiracial' Identity," March 11, the author points to the absurdity of racial classification imposed by bureaucratic means for bureaucratic purposes. San Francisco schools now define as "non-European" anyone with one non-white grandparent. This definition precisely parallels the Nazi definition of a Jewish "half-breed of the second degree."

But now the US has something to learn from post-Nazi Germany. The German Basic Law rightly prohibits the government from snooping into the individual citizen's racial ancestry. Our own federal and state bureaucracies should follow suit.

L.H. Gann Stanford, Calif.

Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. All letters are subject to editing. Letters should be addressed to "Readers Write" and may be sent by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by Internet e-mail (200 words maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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