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What Character Flaws Are You Willing to Overlook in Your Presidential Candidate?

Updated on April 8, 2016

If you could vote for any candidate today, who would it be?

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Partisan politics aside. Let's talk character.

This past weekend a close family member and long time Democrat who tries to look at all sides of an issue, asked me how my feminist ideals and loyalty to Hillary squared with the fact that she covered for Bill's sexual misconduct and rape charge.

Fair question.

Like most people I don't want to believe what I don't want to believe.

But I can't live with myself if I knowingly whitewash deception or avoid uncomfortable questions about hypocrisy and contradiction even (especially) about people I admire.

So, I grapple out loud.

Character should count, a lot

When President Clinton ran for a second term, right off I decided I wouldn't vote for him again because he was a lying rat bastard adulterer.

My father, never one to push his politics or opinion on me or to justify any form of cheating, gently suggested when I step inside the voting booth I should consider Bill's accomplishments more than his personal transgressions.

That's a tough one.

Character informs my point of view. Character overshadows whatever comes after well-orchestrated back-paddling and masterful spin of bad behavior.

A person might be the city's most celebrated philanthropist, feed the hungry every Saturday or adopt foster children but if I find out he's a (serial) cheater, colluded in a cover-up or mocked a handicapped journalist, I go a little deaf about his good works.

This might not say much for my willingness to forgive, or it might say trust weighs heavy in my calculus of someone's integrity.

Plenty of people agree with my father that a man or woman's "inability" to keep it in his or her pants on has little to do with negotiating with world leaders or signing domestic policy that improves millions of lives. My father would probably tell me that Hillary's support of Bill's cover up was all wrong but not wrong enough to cancel my vote.

Obviously Trump's loose canon tongue is more dangerous to our national security than Bill's loose zipper, except that Bill lied under oath which means he might lie while doing other sacred duties.

Two conflicting views
Two conflicting views

How can we handle cognitive dissonance about our candidate?

We all have a dynamic list of outrageous or scandalous deal-breakers about our favorite politician or we did until we starting gorging on 24 hour entertainment news and unconsciously shifted our outrage needle.

Now we mostly shrug unless a child or animal are involved.

Our standards for what goes too far have taken a tragic (but I hope not permanent) dive when Trump's most egregious comments make a shocking number of voters momentarily cringe, and then move on.

But if we feel sick to our stomach that our guy or woman crossed the line we can fix our cognitive dissonance by ignoring, denying or dismissing their worst as "unfairly" taken out of context (Is there appropriate context for a candidate to discuss penis size or mock a disabled journalist?).

The fact is when our candidate's character disappoints us we have a few ways we can react.

We can question our own judgment at risk of questioning our own moral compass (If I still like him and he said/did that, what's that say about me?).

We can change our opinion about the candidate and vote for someone else or write-in a candidate.

We can admit that sometimes good leaders say or do shitty things but past bad behavior shouldn't disqualify good work and an overall strong record.

Largely I agree with the latter.

But Trump has zero political record and he keeps his bad character traits front and center because offensive "refreshing non-pc candor" is his brand, and clearly it's working.


Hillary defending Bill disappointing, but hardly a "war" on women

On the other hand, Hillary's record is long and strong and in my view she doesn't act badly. Yes, I absolutely agree that the email issue speaks to bad judgement.

And yes, when Hillary is confronted about Bill's sexual misconduct like every political spouse she does damage control and deflects the attack or worse, she shames the questioner. And, while Hillary didn't commit Bill's sex scandals her silence suggests collusion around his cover-up.

When a woman stands by her (continuously) cheating man this doesn't sit well with my feminist ideals but it doesn't disqualify Hillary as my president. On the other hand Trump should have been disqualified by voters about four atrocious comments ago and yet, he rises.

I know it's idealistic given the political stakes but I wish Hillary had publicly called Bill out for his serial cheating, "I'm hurt, betrayed and devastated but I still love him and we're in counseling..." At least hurt candor would have sent a message to women, this isn't okay no matter how powerful and protected someone thinks he is.

It's sickening that Hillary was willing to make political and personal contracts with Bill to not only defend him, but to vilify some women by insisting a right-wing conspiracy was behind their accusations.

"This is--the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. A few journalists have kind of caught on to it and explained it. But it has not yet been fully revealed to the American public. And actually, you know, in a bizarre sort of way, this may do it" ~ Hillary Clinton interview on NBC's "Today Show" in 1998.

And later in the interview:

"I think we're going to find some other things. And I think that when all of this is put into context, and we really look at the people involved here, look at their motivations and look at their backgrounds, look at their past behavior, some folks are going to have a lot to answer for."

Still, heard in a vacuum without looking at Mrs. Clinton's record, her protect-my-man comments are just old ammo for the anti-Hillary machine who'd like us to believe she's secretly always waged a "war on women" which is laughable, given her long history of supporting women's rights around the world.

Trump bulletproof? All sorts of wrong about this.

And it seems no matter how much misogynistic bile Trump spews he's impervious to tarnish while no matter what Hillary does to convince doubters she's genuinely pro-women she's permanently ex-communicated as the real deal.

I'm quite sure that even if she apologized for standing by her husband on his sexual misconduct people on both sides would say too little, too late.

But along comes Trump who brags (amidst our high gun-violence nation) that he could shoot someone on the street and not lose votes. His fans might, might shake their head or laugh nervously but they always manage to plug their ears and recover because finally in a proxied catharsis someone shouts their anger without sensitivity, thought or filters.

All of us put on convenient blinders when our candidates reveal slips in their judgement and character. But, imagine if Hillary made the very same gun comment? What about Cruz or Rubio?

Which candidate would get the biggest backlash?


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    • Lauragowens profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Lions44, thank you for your honesty.

      To my last point on Kathleen's comment, we each have our own list of must-have's and deal breakers, with character and policy. Pro-choice is a must have for me (ironically Trump is the only GOP pro-choicer, wrapped in pro-life convenient rhetoric).

      I would expect my candidate to be tough, assertive and confident, but not mean or a jerk. Totally subjective terms of course. "Mean" and "jerk" perhaps mean one thing to you, one thing to me.... mean is low handed, insults easily and all around nasty temperment. A jerk is arrogant, dismissive, hostile, lacks humility .... All traits Trump seems to possess). Assertiveness I demand, aggressive bully, no. The definition of a leader is subjective.

      We have the advantage (or disadvantage) of history to look at past presidents and Hillary's job/character. All we have with Trump is that he's a successful business man with an unfiltered loose canon tongue of increasingly outrageous comments.

      And not to veer into policy, because my piece is about character traits we will or won't tolerate, not partisan politics, but Trump's a xenophobe, or if he's not, he promotes fear of other, which for me, gets into character... fear of other nations. Not how I was raised.

      I can't think of a presidential candidate who's had such a strong white supremacy following. I'm sure someone can dig it up, but no candidate SHOULD have a WS neo Nazi following. Trump appeals to the lowest common denominator in humans, fear, defensive insulting.

    • Lauragowens profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Kathleen, yes, easy to become disillusioned.

      Every President, like every human, is inherently flawed and so will lose favor by even the most loyal voters at one time or another. We night see one Prez as grossly ineffective (which we can see in the comments here is a highly subjective), lacking integrity (a bit less subjective in my view, either you cheated/lied or you didn't) or is disappointing based on some policy we disagree with, or failing to meet our partisan and other, expectations.

      But to focus strictly on character as my piece emphasizes, obviously I bash Trump's character and grapple (slightly) about Hillary's backing Bill on his sexual misconduct, and the poor judgement with the email fiasco. My piece is a head scratching question about the weight of character....I'm flabbergasted that despite people being "angry and tired of establishment politics," Trump's growing outrageousness isn't ENOUGH to change their vote. Character counts for me.

      Every person has some internal list of "must-have's" in a candidate and also, deal breakers....

      Trump in contrast to Hillary who I like but I needed to think about when my step mom asked me how I reconciled my feminist ideals with her "standing by her man" still outranks Trump by yards in character (well, don't ALL the candidates, frankly? Trump set a new low).

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Kathleen, whoever the President is at the time, does not matter to me. I just question the practice overall.

      From (as of Sept. 2015):

      Clinton: 364

      Bush 43: 291

      Obama: 226 (he'll probably finish around 280?)

      In fairness, I think FDR did over 1,000. But that was the Great Depression and he got taken to court over many of those. The practice is concerning to me. Maybe it does not bother others, but it's a deep concern for many of us. I hope for a lot of Dems too. Both Branches need to talk. Great debate.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      According to the Charlotte Observer (Jan. 2016)

      "From Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency through Obama’s, presidents have averaged 118 executive orders per year (or more than two per week). Obama’s average of 32.8 per year (as of last month) is the lowest of any president since Grover Cleveland’s first term in the 1880s."

      Read more here:

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      It is a good argument, John. All Presidents have faced opposition, either from the House or Senate. But they all managed to overcome it. Reagan and Tip O'Neil (who really worked to undermine him), Bush 41 in the Gulf War, Clinton managed all kinds of legislation w/a GOP House. Bush 43 accomplished a lot with a Dem Senate for a time. Obama's work ethic is questinable. Executive order are not the way to go. It's a cheap way of getting what you want when there's no national emergency.

      Dems will regret their support of those actions. One day you will have a Republican President circumvent Congress and I'm sure you will scream for all to hear.

      What if a guy like Ted Cruz became President? On January 20, at 4pm, immediately passed an executive order concerning abortion or education, claiming, "Congress won't work with me." Think about your response to that. You would be horrified. And rightly so.

      How many executive orders has the President signed since January 2009? 200+? He'll reach 300 by next year.

      I don't care if it's the GOP or a Democrat. I don't like it. We have 3 branches of the Federal government. No one should rule by fiat.

      John, I don't know how many Presidents you remember, but President Obama has had the best media coverage of any man ever to inhabit the White House. But he could have accomplished so much more if he was willing to get touch and negotiate.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I find it hard to agree that you consider criticizing President Obama's work ethic in working with Republicans.republicans from the outset set out to undermine his initiatives, and they vocally said so. They did not want to work with him and they wanted to circumvent him. So that's not a good argument.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I can overlook a lot. I don't want a nice guy/woman as my President. So being a jerk and mean-spirited behind the scenes is okay(full disclosure, I'm not a Trump guy).

      The last 3 Presidents (Obama) have had significant faults. I can overlook Clinton's lack of morality; the bar is set pretty low for both Clintons. But I can't overlook Bush's stupidity on Iraq. As a Republican, it is hard to admit that. But he screwed up royally on that one. Costing thousands of lives and maiming many others. As for President Obama, his poor work ethic in working with Congress and lack of transparency, are significant issues for me. The press and the voters are equally guilty. The press failed in vetting him.

      So I guess the one failing I can't overlook is ignorance. Think before you act. Bush cost a lot of lives and hurt this nation long term. As GOPers, we have to admit that.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Can they do the job? Are their priorities my priorities when it comes to the issues? That's all I expect when I cast my vote. Why? I've been disillusioned too many times. Nixon = Watergate Ford = Questionable Pardons Carter = Ignorant of DC Reagan = Iran Contra/Beruit Marine Deaths Bush I = Ineffective Clinton = Lack of Integrity Bush II = Incompetent Obama = Ineffective with Congress. They are all flawed.


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