Commentary: Ethics and Character in the U.S. Presidency


William Galston is a senior fellow and the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a former policy advisor to President Bill Clinton.


The essays in this special issue present and develop several important themes in the examination of ethical presidential leadership. These include the distinction(s) between public and private virtues; the ways in which America's history and democratic ethos shape the “constitutional character” required of its chief executive; the complications in the assessment of presidential leadership posed by the multidimensional character of the presidential office and by the variety of challenges that the president confronts; and the different and often divergent sources of democratic legitimacy, including responsiveness to the electorate, guidance by one's own judgment of its interests, and fidelity to one's core convictions.