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Character and leadership

carlson CHRIS


Several readers have expressed surprise that I would urge former Virginia Senator James Webb to run for president. Their view is Hillary Clinton has it already locked up. While she appears to have better character than her husband, the former president, she does not come close to his leadership skills.

Every presidential election since 1968, with one exception, has for me come down to who has the better character and displays real leadership skills. Sometimes it is “yin and yang” with one attribute weighing more. It helps if one has met the candidate in person and can form an evaluation based on that. We all give off non-verbal signals that astute observers can pick up on and weigh through the prism of their own eperience and needs as well as what one believes is best for society.

Occasionally it has been a toss-up between the candidates, but not very often. Of the two attributes, character often prevail. The judgments of other trustworthy people who can give me a well thought out testimonial can be influential as can good books, either biographies or memoirs, that are part of my due diligence.

A key part of my character evaluation is whether they have kept their marriage vows. A vow is a vow. Yes, people are flawed and make mistakes they regret unless they are serial philanders. Particularly egregious to me is whether they lie if asked about the subject. If they can lie about keeping their marriage vow, they can easily lie to the American people.

Most can accept a candidate saying such a question violates the zone of privacy they feel they are entitled to and it is nobody’s business but their spouses and their family. What none should accept is the hypocrisy of an officeholder preaching family values and using the wife and children as props for photo ops while chasing skirts as if they are some sort of high office perk. Most of us know the type.

The sine qua non of character is honesty and truthfulness, as well as fidelity, compassion, and courage. Leadership is admittedly harder to define,but we know it when it when we see it,

Some may consider this too simple. Others obviously take refuge in voting based party affiliation alone. The party and the policies are secondary in my book.

And yes, with 20/20 hindsight I have made mistakes. Judge for yourself:

1968 Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon. Humphrey was a philanderer Nixon was a lier. Nixon had better leadership skills but his character was too flawed.

1972: McGovern over Nixon. Hands down McGovern had far more character and was a legitimate war hero. Nixon continued to lie.

1976: A true toss-up. Governor Carter and President Ford have sterling character but neither had leadership skills. I went with Carter.

1980: H a hard time voting for Carter again. He had badly failed the leadership test. Both were men of character. My first vote mistake.

1984: Reagan over Mondale, though I knew and liked Fritz. Both were men of character but Reagan clearly the better leader.

1988: George H. W. Bush over Dukakis. Both men of character but Bush clearly had far more experience and far better leadership skills.

1992: Bill Clinton over President Bush. Bush clearly ahead on character as stories of Clinton’s skirt-chasing were multiplying. Bush blew the biggest presidential lead in history after freeing Kuwait. His failure to capitalize made me question his leadership. Second mistake.

1996: Senator Dole ahead on character but behind on leadership. I prefer commander-in-chiefs who have worn a uniform and preferably evn been shot at. Dole was a legitimate war hero. Clinton was a draft dodger.

2000—Governor Bush over Al Gore. Bush won both character and leadership tests. Gore clearly was a phony in my book.

2004—Kerry over Bush. Both men of character but Bush disappointed in many respects so opted to see what Kerry could do. Third mistake.

2008—Obama over McCain. Obama’s character is sterling. McCain’s age, temperment and picking Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away made me question his judgment. McCain though won the leadership test.

2012—Governor Romney over President Obama. Both men of sterling character but Obama has badly failed leadership test.

2016—who knows?

If I’m wrong and it is Hillary against Jeb Bush, I agree with Bush “43” who has said brother Jeb will beat “sister-in-law” Hillary.

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