First, The President Needs To Have Character


First, The President Needs To Have Character


Leonard Zwelling

In this The Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Joseph Epstein writes about the need for a return to character in our presidential candidates. He goes to great lengths to document how neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Trump exhibits this vital trait and despite this, we will probably be stuck with choosing from between these two less than adequate characters. It’s sad.

Now, we have had many presidents who lacked character, none greater than Richard Nixon, but we have also had some who we have been led to believe had that elusive aura of superior ability emanating from superior personality. Surely Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower oozed character and Abraham Lincoln is famous for his. George H. W. Bush had character and he exuded it in person as I was privileged to have met him several times during his tenure as Chairman of the MD Anderson Board of Visitors. Ronald Reagan got elected on it and Jimmy Carter lost despite his having huge amounts of character, so great character does not guarantee success, but failure almost always ensues from the lack of it.

What troubles me most is not that so many of the current candidates for the highest office in the land lack character, it is that the voters don’t seem to care about this trait at all. If they did, could Biden and Trump really be the front runners? In other words, the processes by which we pick our leaders lack the factoring of character into the choosing process.

You blog readers out there know where I am going next.

We have been plagued in American business with some really awful people of bad character as leaders of major companies from Bernie Madoff to Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg to Sam Bankman-Fried. As I have written before, if you want to find psychopathology, look no further than the corner office.

I fear this plague has now spread to MD Anderson.

No one ever questioned Mickey LeMaistre’s character to my knowledge. He may have had faults, but being of great personal presence and adherence to core principles were his core strengths. John Mendelsohn started out in the same vein, until he didn’t and his basic character flaws emerged in the scandals of Enron and ImClone.

Then Anderson took a turn for the worse.

Ron DePinho even lacked the character to stop himself from self-dealing on national television when he extolled the virtues of his own companies on CNBC. At a later Faculty Senate meeting, when Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Ken Shine addressed the faculty about the turmoil Dr. DePinho had created, he asked whether we were questioning the president’s integrity.

I spoke up (I was a senator then). “That’s exactly what we are saying,” I answered. DePinho was eventually replaced. Not because of anything I did, but I gather because of something he did that exceeded the tolerance of Chancellor McRaven.

I told DePinho’s replacement, Peter Pisters, early in his tenure that it would be hard for him to do worse than the last guy. He has managed, however, to do worse than DePinho and I think it is because he shares the narcissistic character with DePinho without DePinho’s intelligence or credentials.

It is sad when leaders have to lead by fiat because they are unable to lead by example. To lead by example, you have to have character. Without it, you and those you purport to lead are in a “sea of trouble.”

I agree with Epstein’s assessment of Trump and Biden in that they lack character. The question for all primary voters, especially those voting in GOP primaries is, do any of the current aspirants to the Oval Office have great character. If you believe that you have found such a person, consider voting for that woman or man.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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