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March 7, 2021

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In Our View: Biden administration requires character

The Columbian
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The Biden administration will have a lot to do when it gets started next month. Climate change needs to be acknowledged and addressed with forward-thinking policies. We need plans and funds to address our crumbling infrastructure. Deficit spending has increased the federal debt beyond what most Americans can even fathom, let alone repay. And, if you didn’t notice, we are in the midst of a pandemic.

We will need solutions. But what we will need most from the new president and his team is character:

• Leadership. Donald Trump was famous for energizing his base of supporters, but we are looking for a president who will seek to lead an entire country, rather than mock and dismiss the views of those who disagree with him.

• Collaboration. Although the makeup of the Senate will depend on the results of two Georgia runoff races, at best Biden will be working with a slimmer majority of Democrats in the House and a 50-50 tie in the Senate. (Vice President Kamala Harris would break any tie votes.) Although voters swept Trump and his cronies out of office, they have not repudiated Republicans or conservative policies. The Biden administration needs to acknowledge this and work with Republicans.

• Honesty. “Honest politician” is the butt of many a joke, but there are degrees. Love him or hate him, but in two successful terms President Obama demonstrated himself to be a basically honest person. So did his predecessor, George W. Bush. On the other hand, Trump has told in the vicinity of 25,000 lies while in office, as reported by The Washington Post. We demand better from our president.

• Professionalism. Cabinet members, senior White House advisers and agency heads should be chosen because they are highly qualified, not because they are your son-in-law or ran your Washington state campaign. So far Biden has named a slate of highly qualified professionals, made even more admirable because of their diverse backgrounds.

• Morality. A president needs to demonstrate a strong sense of morality. Moral presidents treat immigrant children like children, not war criminals. They go to church, instead of ordering police to tear gas protesters so they can create a photo op in front of a church.

Peggy Noonan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. She is one of 10 historians and writers who contributed essays on the American presidency for the book, “Character Above All.” Here’s what she has to say about presidential character:

“In a president, character is everything. A president doesn’t have to be brilliant … He doesn’t have to be clever; you can hire clever … You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks. But you can’t buy courage and decency, you can’t rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him … He needs to have, in that much maligned word, but a good one nonetheless, a ‘vision’ of the future he wishes to create. But a vision is worth little if a president doesn’t have the character — the courage and heart — to see it through.”

Biden knows this, of course. In a Nov. 7 speech in which he claimed the presidency, he said it is “a time to heal in America.”

“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, (but) only sees the United States,” he said.

In less than a month, he will be called upon to prove it. A glaring lack of character led to the downfall of Donald Trump and his administration. We need the Biden administration to do better.

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