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Newt Lacks Character to be President

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Feb 4, 2012

In speaking about the presidency in 1964, Richard Nixon said, "With all the power the president has, the most important thing to bear in mind is this: You must not give power to a man, unless above everything, he has character."

Unfortunately, Nixon did not learn his own lesson, but we can. As Republicans choose a nominee, I hope they realize Newt Gingrich lacks the character to be president.

For many Republicans, Gingrich is a smart, visionary, articulate conservative ready to battle President Obama and liberalism to restore conservative values in America. Believing in redemption, they forgive his unfaithfulness to his first two wives because he has repented. But as one commentator said, "Repentance may get you into heaven but doesn't qualify you for the White House," because Gingrich's adultery reflects deeper character flaws that, if they consume a president, could lead to disastrous results.

When examining any candidate's character, we have to remember that character is more than just having high moral standards. According to the MacMillan Dictionary, character is "the qualities that make up someone's personality." The qualities are formed by our upbringing, major life experiences and daily habits of life and combine to influence who we are, our priorities, our view of life, others and how the world works, etc. And character, once formed, tends to persist.

So what qualities do we see in Gingrich? We see an idea factory, but also an impulsiveness that leads to three bad ideas (e.g., moon colony) for every good idea because he does not think them through. We see vision but no discipline to implement it, like creating a campaign organization and getting on the ballot in key states.

We see intelligence but also narcissism when he claims only he can defeat President Obama when between 50-60 percent of Americans have unfavorable views of him. As the debates and speeches show, his arrogance breeds contempt for those who challenge him.

We see perseverance through adversity, but his drive seems to flow more out of personal animosity, as seen in his vendetta against Mitt Romney for reminding voters of Gingrich's political baggage.

Gingrich has spoken of transforming America for years, but he shows no discernment in identifying when times demand transformation versus incremental change. We see someone able to voice conservative dissatisfaction with government, but who shows little integrity railing against Washington elites after serving as speaker, running think tanks in Washington and claiming Fannie Mae hired him as a "historian."

So when we look at Gingrich, adultery is not the character flaw. Rather, adultery is one of the results of an undisciplined, arrogant, abrasive, petulant individual with poor judgment.

Are these the qualities you want in a president who makes life-and-death and life-altering decision every day, whether in the use of military force, cutting benefits to reduce the deficit, restoring our economy and appointing prosecutors, judges and regulators? Are these the characteristics of a president able to promote a vision for America and build a domestic and international coalition to achieve it?

There is no perfect candidate. All have flaws, and we need to consider those when making voting decisions. However, Newt's character flaws are too great.

This column originally appeared in the Feb. 3rd edition of The Jackson Sun