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Presidential Leadership: what is good; what is bad?

Caricature of SteveDavid Brooks, as many of you know, recently completed his own search for honesty and a moral compass as he describes in the latest book “The Road to Character.”

He ascribes to George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt the qualities he cherishes most.

So it’s not surprising that the conservative columnist for The New York Times questions liberal Democrat president candidate Hillary Clinton’s character and fitness for office.

You who have read my notes and blogs can predict where my opinion falls along this ideological continuum.

Although I agree with Mr. Books’s assessment of the balance between political effectiveness and moral stability, I think there are more recent American Presidents who are better examples of the attributes he describes.

Jimmy Carter’s moral qualities are not debatable given the good works beyond his presidency. But his single term in office is testament to his ineffectiveness.

Richard Nixon is the classic example of an astute politician with a fatally flawed personality.

Bill Clinton’s serial philandering and subsequent lies about it invited his impeachment. He still has admirers because a robust economy—on autopilot during his administration—let him skate objective criticism. He sent Hillary to Capitol Hill to lobby for their failed health care reform initiative while he remained in the White House mentoring interns.

With fewer than 24 months remaining in his presidency, the jury should be ready to hand down its verdict on Barack Obama. An inspirational orator with a commitment to domestic liberal causes, his inexperience and weakness when confronted with international challenges place him in the nation’s category of average Commanders-in-Chief.

The question before us is whether we consider America’s problems so serious that we are willing to elect someone whom we suspect to be dishonest yet effective? Or do we take the chance on a candidate who represents the nation’s highest ideals but may not have a proven track record of leadership and accomplishment?

Americans chose the latter when they elected John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Barack Obama in 2008.

We elected the former when we cast our ballot for Richard Nixon in 1968 and Bill Clinton in 1992.

Mr. Brooks words—and our own recollection of recent U.S. presidents—should be sober reminders of the responsibility we voters have to make the right decision and to consider the criteria of national leadership when we do.

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