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Constitutional Character: Virtues and Vices in Presidential Leadership


Dennis F. Thompson is the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University, and the founding director of the university-wide Center for Ethics. Thompson's books include Restoring Responsibility: Ethics in Government, Business, and Healthcare, Just Elections, Ethics in Congress, and Political Ethics and Public Office.


Presidents and presidential candidates should be assessed more than they usually are on the basis of what may be called constitutional character. This refers to the disposition to act, and motivate others to act, according to principles that constitute the democratic process. Its virtues and vices are distinct from personal or private morality. Constitutional character includes such qualities as sensitivity to basic rights, respect for due process in the broad sense, willingness to accept responsibility, tolerance of opposition, and most importantly a commitment to candor.