Character and Candidacies
Political Scientist Greg Weiner makes an argument for character in the NYT: The Scoundrel Theory of American Politics.
there is also a novel and ominous concept of the statesman emerging in American politics, most clearly in the gymnastic contortions being accomplished to justify support for the Senate campaign of Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama: the politician as a disembodied policy array.
In this scheme, the candidate is a mere vessel for policy preferences. His or her character is irrelevant because the potential officeholder is to be judged wholly by the policies he or she will support.
Weiner goes on to discuss why he finds this pernicious.
Of course, much is predicated on the notion that “statesman” is the appropriate term to apply to political candidates, a position I question (and not because I don’t normatively prefer the notion of “statesmen” in office, but because I am not sure that, as an empirical matter, most politicians fall into that category).
Really, the issues that Weiner is trying to get at are as old as political philosophy: to what degree is good government dependent upon, or indeed driven by, good officeholders and to what degree can government be designed to ameliorate the effects of bad officeholders (I actually touch on this in my post on on regime type).
The problem is: the only method in our system to filter character is via votes: first to nominate, then to elect. At either one of those decision points, it is very difficult for character to be the deciding factor, if anything because voters have incomplete information and are influenced by a variety of variables. Certainly by the time the general election is reached, voters are heavily influenced by partisan preferences.
There is a reason that one of my favorite quotes of all time is: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself” (James Madison, Federalist 51).