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The Deadly Art of Character Assassination

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The Deadly Art of Character Assassination

It happened in California, and it will happen again across the United States in 2004. Mudslinging, especially during election campaigns, has become political sport—and the worst is yet to come.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Suppose you ran a successful multimillion-dollar company, and you were looking to hire a new manager to help expand your product line. What if, upon reviewing countless resumes, three job candidates stood out from the crowd—Jones, Smith and Brown? Now imagine that, as you interview Smith, he explains why he is the best man for the job:

“I'm sure that Jones and Brown are fine gentlemen,” he says. “However, I'm much more qualified than they are. I graduated from a finer university, and have far more on-the-job experience than they have. Also, my vision to improve and expand your product line is greater and much more realistic than what these two men propose.

“Confidentially, there are reports that Jones has a drinking problem, and occasionally beats his wife and children. Brown, on the other hand, used to experiment with illegal drugs back in his college days, and still tends to associate with certain shady individuals.

“Of course, you would never need to worry about breaches of ethics under my watch. Hire me, and my leadership will stand for integrity and decency.”

Would you hire such a person—someone who shamelessly praised and exalted himself while slinging mud at the character and reputations of others? Of course not. Anyone who sought employment like this would sentence himself to a continuous spot in the unemployment line!

Yet many politicians run for office (seek to be hired by the voting public) by slinging mud at their opponents. Few, it seems, shy away from touting their own virtues while launching verbal attacks with wild accusations, rumors and innuendo against their rivals—all in hopes of attaining office by virtually any means necessary. And, the mindset goes, if that calls for tarnishing the reputation of others—tearing down their hopes and dreams, and even ripping apart marriages and families—then so be it. Everyone and everything is considered fair game.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Numerous opinion polls reveal that most voters oppose negative campaign advertisements, yet both Democrats and Republicans often resort to smear campaigns—why?

Because negative campaign ads work! They have helped many politicians attain office. As a result, the road leading to political prominence is littered with the ruined reputations and shattered dreams of those who once held promise.

Those candidates who survive such vicious character attacks are often left politically scarred—and, in some cases, ruined. Their term in office is spent bowing to constant pressure of having to answer accusations and questions. They drown in gridlock, and their terms of office often end in failure.

Case in point: When popular film star Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to run for governor in the recent California recall election, his friends warned him that his personal reputation would be ferociously attacked—that every skeleton in his closet would be exposed for all to see.

Mr. Schwarzenegger's friends were proven correct. And though he did win the recall vote, the film star has assumed the governorship at a steep price. Time will tell if the anguish he and his family experienced was worth it.

Unfortunately, this account is far from unique. A study of the history of American politics shows that it is partly built on the foundation of mudslinging, malicious accusations, vicious rumors, sleazy innuendo and outright lies.

Many who have sought the office of U.S. President have been targets of character assassination. And many of these targets were guilty of doing the same against their opponents. Thomas Jefferson was an architect of the Declaration of Independence and a founding father of this great nation—yet, he was not above hiring a journalist to slander John Adams, another founding father, in vying for the presidency. Abraham Lincoln suffered relentless attacks from his rivals before and all throughout his term in office. So have nearly all other presidents.

Therefore, expect character assassination to rear its ugly head during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign. To date, the Democratic challengers have concentrated on attacking each other and whoever is the latest front-runner, while taking potshots at the president. But once a viable Democratic challenger emerges victorious from the primaries, you can expect mudslinging and character assassination on a grand scale. Get ready to be buried under an avalanche of verbal assaults and (mis)information through speeches, news interviews, campaign commercials, press releases, talk radio, editorials, etc.

Character assassination is alive and well, and will only grow worse.

What Is Character?

Merriam-Webster defines character, in part, as “moral excellence and firmness.”

To paraphrase Herbert W. Armstrong, founder and publisher of The Real Truth's predecessor magazine, true character is (1) the ability to know right from wrong, (2) the willful desire to choose right over wrong, and (3) doing what is right and rejecting the wrong, even in the face of overwhelming trials, pressures and temptations to do otherwise.

In light of this definition, there are two major reasons why mudslinging exists: Those who maliciously attack the reputations of others lack character themselves! And in many cases, the targets of such attacks have also lacked character, often guilty of what they have been accused.

Unfortunately, we are nearing an age when true character—virtue, excellence and integrity—will be all but extinct. 

No Standard Accepted

Every human being is born believing that his way is the right way. The result is that people cannot fully agree on a universal standard that defines right from wrong.

For example, some believe that abortion under any circumstance is wrong. Others think that abortion is permissible if the pregnancy is a result of a sexual assault or incest, or if the unborn child has a genetic birth defect. Others believe that, though abortion is wrong, mothers-to-be possess rights that override the rights of the unborn, including the right to live. Some think that it is okay to abort an unborn child only within the mother's first trimester. Others believe it can include the second trimester. And still others believe that a woman has a right to abort her child at any time during the pregnancy!

Clearly, people cannot agree as to what is right and what is wrong. Perhaps the most blatant example of this is found beneath the overarching umbrella of traditional Christianity.

Praying to God the Father, Jesus Christ said that “Your word”—the Bible—“is truth” (John 17:17). Later, He inspired the apostle Paul to write, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine [Greek: “teaching”], for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness [keeping God's commandments; see Psalm 119:172]” (II Tim. 3:16).

The vast majority of professing Christians agree that the Bible is a holy book inspired by God. Yet few believe—and even fewer actually do—what it teaches. Every sect, denomination and movement is bent on offering its own “spin” and interpretation of what the scriptures say.

Speaking of those who do this, Christ said, “Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men...Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).

Most who call themselves Christian reject the Bible as the ultimate defining standard of right and wrong. They observe Christmas, Easter, New Year's and other popular holidays, despite abundant historical evidence that these worldly observances have ancient pagan roots.

“I celebrate the holidays to worship God,” goes the argument. “As long as I use them to point to Christ, there's nothing wrong with keeping Christmas, New Year's and such.”

But what does the inspired Word of God actually teach? Notice: “Learn not the way of the heathen [Moffatt Translation: “pagans”]...For the customs of the people are vain” (Jer. 10:2, 3). These and numerous other verses reveal that the God of the Bible does not tolerate celebrations and observances that are rooted in paganism.

Unfortunately, most people are not concerned with what God thinks. Each person would rather do “that which [is] right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 21:25). This is why mudslinging and breaches of character thrive and will continue to grow worse.

Ultimate Standard Rejected

Carnal nature convinces each human being that his way is the right way. Scriptures such as Proverbs 16:2 (“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes”) and 21:2 (“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes”) show this mindset.

However, God's Word also reveals that “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Also notice Jeremiah 10: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (vs. 23).

Clearly, the Bible shows that men do not have the natural ability to determine right from wrong. Yet, ironically, men believe they do have this ability. How can this be?

Because “The heart [mind] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). The human mind deceives people into believing that they possess the natural ability to properly judge right from wrong.

Where did this deception originate? The book of Genesis reveals the answer. Chapters 2 and 3 record that there were two symbolic trees in the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life represented the ultimate standard of how to live. It symbolized the way of give—outgoing concern for others—reliance upon God for direction and guidance. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented the way of get—concern only for self—reliance only upon self, not God.

Had they eaten of the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve, the world's first humans, would have chosen to rely upon God to guide them in making the right decisions. And so would their offspring. Civilization would be radically different from what we see today. War, murder, theft, adultery and other ills that plague our society would be nonexistent.

However, Adam and Eve chose to eat of the wrong tree. Ever since, they and their descendants have chosen to do “that which was right in his own eyes.” The result?—the chaotic, violent, increasingly perverse world in which we live today.

Cut off from God, men cannot agree upon a universal standard of right and wrong. Each man has his own idea of how to live.

What If...?

Suppose everyone did accept God's Word as the ultimate standard of right living. What if mankind chose to rely upon God to teach them right from wrong, and turned to the Bible, allowing it to simply interpret itself?

Every problem, issue and concern we face today would be successfully resolved! There would be no more debates about smoking, gun control or abortion. There would be no more differing views of Christianity. Never again would people say, “Now here's what I think” and come up with their own flavor of biblical teachings. Everyone would know and agree on right from wrong.

But simply knowing is not enough. People must choose to do what is right.

For example, men have set up laws regulating how motorists should behave while driving in traffic. Yet, have you noticed what happens when you drive the exact highway speed limit? Most cars speed by you as though you were standing still! Drivers routinely tailgate other motorists who are not going “fast enough.” They recklessly zip across traffic lanes without using their turn signals. And they speed through red lights without care or concern for the lives of others.

Laws, rules and standards are effective only when men choose to obey them.

And yet even this is not enough. Even if people know and choose what is right, they must actively do it—rejecting all temptations and pressures to take the easy way out!

This is true character.

If men followed these steps, mudslinging would be a thing of the past.


Because everyone would know that it is wrong to assassinate the character of others. And no matter what “evidence” was presented to them, they would refuse to resort to smear campaigns—even if it meant not getting “hired” into office. Also, people would not do the sort of things that would cause their reputations to be attacked in the first place!

Regrettably, few—if any—have this type of godly character.

Until mankind accepts the only universal code—the Bible—that truly defines right from wrong in all matters of life, character assassination will increase, and character itself will continue to weaken and eventually fade away completely.

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