Victor Davis Hanson: Professional Behavior While in Public Service is the Essential Test of Character in Evaluating a President

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

When one says ‘character’, we have to distinguish between professional behavior and personal appetite. So, we have to decide, to what degree does adultery, or fornication, or personal drug use disqualify a candidate.

If such acts were perceived to be disqualifying, then Barack Obama would not be president, due to his confessed illegal drug use. Or Bill Clinton would not be president because of his sexual assault. Or FDR would not be president. Or Dwight Eisenhower would not be head of the Normandy invasion. Or Patton would not be General.

Given this state of affairs, I tend to suggest that a person’s private life within normal bounds is more or less off limits.

The professional life is another story. If in public service, one has had conflicts of interest, or through personal comportment, violated the trust of his or her office, I think that is much more serious than if somebody in private enterprise was unethical. Fidelity to the people in public service is very important.

And then of course, criminality, is an essential factor in evaluating a presidential candidate. If a candidate has a criminal record, e.g. if Bill Clinton is disbarred for criminal activity, then I don’t think he should be involved in politics.

But I tend to think that your professional behavior while in public service is what you want to focus on.

Featured Image: United States Library of Congress

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