The Character Factor
How We Judge America's Presidents
Presidential Studies - Political Science
6.125 x 9.25, 224 pp.
Pub Date: 01/21/2004
Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership
  cloth
Price:        $40.00 s

978-1-58544-315-4
  paper
Price:        $16.95

978-1-58544-316-1

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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The Character Factor

How We Judge America's Presidents

By James P. Pfiffner

WATERGATE. MONICA LEWINSKY. PAINKILLERS IN THE OVAL OFFICE. IRAN-CONTRA. READ MY LIPS. THE CHARACTER FACTOR.

The American president’s character matters. To most Americans, it matters deeply. But how do we define what character means, and why can’t we agree?

In this sober, probing consideration of “the character factor” and the presidency, veteran political analyst James P. Pfiffner leads us through a survey of three aspects of presidential character that have proved problematic for recent chief executives: lies, promise-keeping, and sexual probity. His goal is not to tell us which presidents have been “good” and which “bad.” Rather, he helps us think critically and impartially about complex character issues and invites us to reach our own conclusions.

The Character Factor avoids both the abyss of moral relativism and the desert of political cynicism. It helps us look at our presidents (and our presidential candidates) without illusions, knowing that flawed men can still be great leaders but that some flaws deserve defeat at the polls—or even the ultimate presidential sanction, impeachment.

James P. Pfiffner has written or edited ten books and many articles about the presidency. A professor of government and public policy at George Mason University, he is frequently invited to lecture on various topics related to the American president. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison

What Readers Are Saying:

“This book represents the highest quality; it is extremely significant; it is highly original on a subject that is frequently written on; it is as fair-minded and clear-headed a treatment as one could hope for. . . clear-headed, even-tempered, and fair-minded on one of the most commonly discussed, but poorly understood, elements of the presidency: the interface between personal character and the institution. In sum, this book is a tour de force.”--Robert J. Spitzer, SUNY Cortland, and past President, Presidency Research Group of the American Political Science Association

“This book represents the highest quality; it is extremely significant; it is highly original on a subject that is frequently written on; it is as fair-minded and clear-headed a treatment as one could hope for. . . clear-headed, even-tempered, and fair-minded on one of the most commonly discussed, but poorly understood, elements of the presidency: the interface between personal character and the institution. In sum, this book is a tour de force.” --Robert J. Spitzer, SUNY Cortland, and past President, Presidency Research Gro

“No question that this book is needed. The topic ‘Character and the Modern Presidency’ is hugely important, and no one has thought about it as carefully as Jim has. No other book covers similar territory . . . will make a major contribution.” --Louis Fisher

“Professor Pfiffner has offered students, scholars, and the general public a splendid analysis of the vital—and sometimes perplexing—role that character plays in the performance of Presidents. The character factor often erupts into major public and voter debate—whether the debate relates to Presidential lies, sexual probity, or Presidential setbacks. In this definitive work, Pfiffner also reminds us that Presidents are elected to lead the country, and that the quality of such leadership is the key ingredient in judging the character mix.” --David M. Abshire, President, Center for the Study of the Presidency and forme

"This fair-minded and intriguing book will help readers make sense of the conflicting claims about ‘character’ in political leadership. James Pfiffner clearly explains the circumstances in which private traits take on public significance—and why it is unrealistic to expect wholly ‘good’ people to rise to power. The Character Factor deserves attention from anyone interested in American politics." --James Fallows, author, Breaking the News

“An excellent jump into the ethical wasteland of lies and deception that presidents have told people during the course of democratic politics . . . intriguing in its research of the background of some of the more infamous presidential lies. The Character Factor is a must read for all people, because this nation is a republic. We vote others to represent our best interest and it is important that we know how to judge them and what they say.” --Island Waves

“Do we really care about the character of our presidents? Those who think we do (or should) will find much to ponder in James Pfiffner’s examination of the character of chief executives from Washington to the Bushes.” --Dallas Morning News

“In a sea of starkly critical commentary by partisans and the media, James Pfiffner offers a balanced, scholarly analysis of presidential character. . . The Character Factor will appeal to anyone interested in the presidency of political ethics. The book will be useful in classes at all levels because it is thought provoking and provides enough historical detail to generate meaningful discussions among students, scholars, and politically concerned citizens.” --Political Science Quarterly

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