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The Double-Edged Sword: How Character Makes and Ruins Presidents, from Washington to Clinton

Synopsis

Ever since the Founding Fathers' faith in George Washington led them to create the presidency, the issue of character has been inextricably linked to the Oval Office. The American people have always expected their presidents to serve not only as political leaders but also role models of personal behavior, setting standards for raising their children. But as the new millennium nears, character and values have taken on a significance never contemplated by Washington and the Founding Fathers. In the second half of the twentieth century, with the enfeeblement of traditional political institutions, and the explosion of electronic media, John F. Kennedy used his character to cross a new frontier into the era of the personal presidency. Democrat Kennedy blazed a trail in image manipulation which Republican Ronald Reagan carried to new heights. Then came Clinton. No president before him has been so calculating and determined in exploiting his personal life and values; yet no chief executive in modern times has been so reviled and condemned because of his personal behavior. The Double-Edged Sword: How Character Makes and Ruins Presidents, from Washington to Clinton rebuts the claim put forward by Clinton and his supporters that a President's private life can be separated from his performance in office. By examining the morality of some of our most prominent and influential Executive Chiefs- from the birth of the Republic and the launch of the New Deal to Watergate and the Clinton presidency- Robert Shogan illustrates how the so-called character issue, and the intertwined issue of values, are linked to the political process and governance. Based on extensive research as well as interviews with politicians and journalists, the book looks at how the strengths and weaknesses of character help shape presidential performance for good and for ill. It shows how presidents and their rivals on the political stage use the public's perceptions of presidential character to manipulate political audiences- namely, the press and the electorate. Ultimately, the book demonstrates that presidential character is a double-edged sword- a weapon that can discredit a president and destroy his credibility, but also a weapon that he can use to define himself and mobilize support- in sum, the ultimate weapon in modern American politics.