Cover image for The scarlet thread of scandal : morality and the American presidency
The scarlet thread of scandal : morality and the American presidency
Dunn, Charles W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 209 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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E176.1 .D86 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Never before have Americans been more concerned about the moral dimensions of presidential leadership. What role should morality play in the decision making of our most powerful elected official? What did the Founders think about the significance of morality in this cherished political institution? Does the private behavior of a president influence his or her ability to lead our nation? In The Scarlet Thread of Scandal, eminent scholar Charles W. Dunn turns a penetrating eye to the history of presidential scandals to answer these and other pressing questions. Scandals are surely nothing new in the White House ever since the creation of the republic, presidents have made morally questionable judgments, whether constitutional, ethical, legal, or personal. In eloquent and judicious prose, Dunn chronicles the numerous controversies in presidential history, paying particular attention to their impact on the American people and public memory. The Scarlet Thread of Scandal will make all Americans think differently about past, present, and future presidents."

Author Notes

Charles W. Dunn is Dean of the School of Arts and Letters at Grove City College and lives in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

It should come as no surprise that a political scientist who has spent his career studying "the relationship between the . . . presidency and morality, religion, and ideology" would fall toward the Bill Bennett end of the spectrum on whether the nation is in moral decline. In most of this survey of the moral environments presidents have faced and how well they performed, Dunn provides thoughtful generalizations on social and ideological changes and on individual leaders. But Dunn misses the homogeneous moral order of the past; critical as he is of Clinton (and he's very critical), Dunn cuts him some slack based on today's "confused" moral climate. Dunn's footnotes reveal an odd bias: for most presidents, Dunn refers to standard biographies, but his Kennedy section relies entirely on revisionist historians; his Clinton section uses a peculiar mix. (The source of a critical comment on Clinton's mother's morality, e.g., is Lynne Cheney, GOP appointee, wife of the former Republican congressman/secretary of defense!) A useful compendium for libraries so long as its slant is recognized. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

On the surface, these two books would seem to have something in common--they both talk about the "M" word (Monica, that is) and President Clinton. However, they do so in two very different ways. In The Scarlet Thread, Dunn (dean, Grove City Coll.) looks at presidential scandals from Washington to Clinton and puts them into historical context. He argues that the president's morality both reflects and influences the moral mood of the nation. He pays particular attention to the last 70 years and concludes that except for the upright Reagan era, the country has been steeped in a moral morass since the Kennedy administration. While he does provide a historical context for scandals, his conservative bias, especially where it concerns the last 40 years, takes away from the impact of his argument. Not recommended. Mink's Hostile Environment is a case history of sexual harassment law. Mink (political science, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) wrote it, she says, to defend sexual harassment plaintiffs against the "all-too-convenient redefinition of what sexual harassment is and what the law guards against." She provides a case-by-case history of sexual harassment law and argues that Judge Susan Webber Wright's judgment that President Clinton's behavior did not constitute harassment because he accepted "no" for an answer does serious harm to the laws. She finds feminist support of the President equally troublesome. Much of the book focuses on explaining how sexual harrassment laws could, very soon, become worthless. A lucid and interesting history of sexual harassment law; recommended for academic and large public collections.--Roseanne Castellino, Arthur D. Little, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
1 The Scarlet Thread of Scandalp. 1
2 The Moral Kaleidoscopep. 17
3 Origins of Moral Conflict in the Modern Erap. 41
4 Presidential Scandal in a Golden Age, 1932-1960p. 79
5 Tarnishing the Golden Age, 1961-1975p. 113
6 Postmodern Presidential Moralityp. 137
7 The Seamless Garment of Moralityp. 165
Notesp. 187
Indexp. 203
About the Authorp. 209