The Character Question

Published: March 2, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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“A good moral character is the first essential in a man.” 
– George Washington

After the Florida debate in January, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich called rival Mitt Romney “fundamentally dishonest.” The former House Speaker expanded his comments with conservative commentator Sean Hannity about Romney’s tenure at Boston-based venture capital group Bain Capital. Gingrich said, “We’re talking about the character, the judgment of one particular person who seeks to be president.” (Jan. 11)

When Michigan voters were asked in a recent exit poll what they considered to be the “Most Important Candidate Quality,” 32 percent said, “Can Defeat Obama.” However, 24 percent said “Strong Moral Character.” Character ranked ahead of “Experience” (22%), and “True Conservative” (16%).(Feb. 28)

The character question typically shows up in every election-cycle. We’re constantly reminded of the sins and/or omissions of public officials. A recent memoir detailed President Kennedy’s 18-month affair with a 19-year-old White House intern. A Washington Post survey asked, “Do you care about White House intern Mimi Alford’s affair with JFK?” 61 percent of those responding said, ‘No,’ while only 39 percent answered ‘Yes.’ (Feb. 9)

While the press apparently knew of Kennedy’s serial womanizing they never reported on it. Not so with former President Bill Clinton whose illicit relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky brought forth a torrent of graphic details from the press.

Nixon had his Watergate; Warren Harding, Teapot Dome. Even Ronald Reagan was tarred with the infamous Iran-Contra scandal where funds from the sale of arms to Iran were secretly funneled to the revolutionary Nicaraguan Contras. While theTower Report investigating the matter determined that Reagan had no knowledge of the action, he was heavily criticized for not being more aware of the actions of his subordinates.

So, here are the questions I’m looking for you, the reader, to answer:

What does it mean to you to have strong moral character? And, how does that apply to your choice of a presidential candidate?

I’m not looking for an online definition. I can find that myself. I’m looking for your thoughts, your opinions on moral character, and how that figures into your equation of presidential qualifications. Examples are encouraged.

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