Robert P. George: To Evaluate Character in a Presidential Candidate, Look to These Three Traits

Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from an interview with Robert P. George conducted in October 2016. It has been modified for clarity.

I think the first thing you want to look for in evaluating character in a candidate is honesty. Is the person as good as his word? Does he tell the truth? Can you count on what he says?

Again, in a Republic where the people rule or at least are supposed to rule (to the extent that we are a Republic that the people rule), we need to be able to rely on the veracity of what our leaders say. Now, they might be mistaken about this or that or the other thing. We can forgive such an error. We are all fallible. But there’s a difference between an honest error and a lie, or between an honest error and manipulation, or between an honest error and duplicity. What we have to be on the lookout for are lies, dishonesty, duplicity. Such behavior reflects the first way into a man or woman’s character.

Secondly, I think we need to look for whether the person is faithful to his or her principles. Fidelity is very important, especially fidelity to causes. But fidelity to causes cannot be sharply separated from other types of fidelity, including fidelity to persons in general, fidelity to spouses, fidelity to friends. Now, that doesn’t mean that people can’t change their minds, and in good faith abandon a cause that they once held dear, or in view of changes in knowledge of facts, alter a position.

If you thought something was going to redound to the benefit of the public, for the common good, but as the facts come in, it turns out that the common good is not well-served by a given policy or program, then by all means, it’s perfectly legitimate for a person, including a politician, including a leader, to change his mind. But I think we need to be on the lookout to make sure that people are not being simply unfaithful by changing their minds not on the basis of evidence or argument, but on the basis of the way the political winds are blowing, or where the money is coming from, or on account of some other dubious motives.

Featured Image: Truth by Olin Warner (United States Library of Congress)

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