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When character counts in choosing a president

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ANOTHER VIEW: Gingrich rise and fall: a question of decency?

For the purpose of choosing a chief executive, it is more important to think about public character. How have candidates conducted themselves in office, in business, or on the campaign trail? Have they shown the cardinal virtues of courage, self-control, wisdom, and justice?

Political courage is the willingness to risk one's electoral future for the sake of the greater good. In "Profiles in Courage," John F. Kennedy wrote about senators who took unpopular stands, and some of them went down to defeat.

Newt Gingrich has displayed such courage from time to time. During the 1980s and '90s, his efforts to elect a GOP House majority put him high on the Democrats' target list. He kept at it, even though they nearly denied him reelection more than once.

Nevertheless, his courage took plenty of vacations when it came to policy convictions: Expedience led him to embrace trade protectionism and pork-barrel spending.

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