Michael J. Kerrigan

Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Kelly Mears

It’s not often that one hears a rational discussion of virtue in politics.

When the two subjects do collide, it is almost exclusively in the form of a scandal — yet another politician whose private life is found to be in shocking discord with his public stance; yet another extramarital affair; yet another broken promise. For those of us who vote our values, there is nothing more disheartening than seeing an official we elected betray the very values that made up his or her campaign platform. The stories that come out of Washington are enough to make you want to cancel your newspaper subscription and turn off your computer. Luckily, a new book, Michael Kerrigan’s Politics with Principle: 10 Characters with Character offers an alternative.

In the book, Kerrigan, a devout Catholic and former lobbyist, argues that there are still people of morals and character on Capitol Hill, and their success in employing virtue versus vitriol is proof that politics of hypocrisy need not be what we teach the next generation.

To make his argument, Kerrigan has assembled a cast of 10 public figures — five Democrats and five Republicans — who have exhibited a unique and extraordinary dedication to virtue and morality throughout their careers.

Some of the “characters” featured in the book include former Senator Rick Santorum, former Congressman Tom Bliley, former Assistant Attorney General Anne Bingaman, and Massachusetts State Senate William Bulger.

In a collection of in-depth, probing interviews, each individual reveals the principles that guide them, the people that have influenced them, and the various tests and temptations they have faced in their years in public life.

As a Catholic, it’s refreshing to read a book that discusses the importance of faith in politics. Each and every character emphasizes the importance of family and faith in helping them weather the storms of a political career. And each speaks to the challenge — and importance — of staying true to your morals in a profession that constantly challenges them.

As an added bonus, the book’s question-and-answer format makes it an ideal choice for a church group or book club. Politics with Principle offers a refreshing and unique view of American politics, one that will be welcomed by anyone seeking to find virtue in our political leaders — and in ourselves.

U.S. Catholic, January 10, 2011




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By David Martin

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony eulogizes the fallen emperor in Act 3, Scene 2 with the famous line, “The Evil men do lives after them; the Good is oft interred with their bones.”  In today’s 24/7 made-for-sound bite media clamor, too often we’ve not taken the time or have lost the discernment to tell the difference.  Against the din of empty values and expediency, Michael Kerrigan’s Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character offers a much needed reprieve.  Through his deeply intimate dialogue with influencers of our day, Kerrigan introduces us to living examples of principled power.  The Good of their character is held open as a means to find those values which transcend personality and partisan politics.  With disarming, accessible ease, we meet real people who, together with Kerrigan, lay open their guiding principles and values in a time when popularity and opinion drive conventional wisdom to counsel equivocation.  In a refreshing boldness, Kerrigan is willing to put his judgment on the line and hold up living, fallible friends as examples of a more perfect Union.

Perhaps the greatest value Kerrigan has offered America and the world in Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character is a much-needed example of civil discourse.  In a time when polarization is fuelled by rapacious peddlers of sensationalism, Politics with Principle gives readers an opportunity to hear diverse voices find common and opposing ground with honor and decorum befitting a civil society.  Like me, you may find certain ideologies or values dissonant with your own.  However, my recommendation is to call on your higher angels at these moments.  Allow Politics with Principle to evoke a deep respect and appreciation for the honesty and integrity of real people doing their best to share real lessons from real lives.

Dr. David E. Martin Founder and Chairman, M•CAM, Inc. Batten Fellow, University of Virginia




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Sondra Rubenstein

It took a gentleman like Michael Kerrigan, himself a man of stellar character, to write Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character. Besides being an engaging and excellent read, this book provides examples of exceptional role models. I highly recommend Politics with Principle be included in university ethics courses, where our youth learn about Aristotle’s Golden Mean and other paths of moral reasoning.

Kerrigan’s ten characters are real people, from diverse walks of life, who share a level of integrity too frequently absent in today’s political world, a world known more for its sleaze. Given the turbulent times in which we live, it is heartwarming to read about virtuous individuals, and to be reminded of a standard of decency that ought to be more commonly emulated by all who aspire to leadership roles.

Sondra M. Rubenstein, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor Department of Communication
Haifa University, Israel




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Tim Flanagan

Every once in a while a book comes along that re-establishes a value in our society. Politics with Principle is such a gift and a must read for young and old who wish to learn about the importance of character and how to strengthen  it.

The people, stories and responses to questions provide the reader with many living examples of authentic leadership. My prayer is that Politics with Principle will reestablish the value of character in our country.

Timothy C. Flanagan Chair & Founder Catholic Leadership Institute tflanagan@catholicleaders.org



Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Daryl J. Glick

Politics with Principle is an appealing and important book: it fills a void in current biographical literature,  hearkening back to Profiles in Courage and much further, to Plutarch’s Lives.  Kerrigan has composed an eminently readable in-depth study of what it takes to be successful in public affairs and remain true to one’s principles – rare, you may say? He shows it’s less rare than most might think, given depth of character and proven virtue.

Through revealing biographical portraits and probing interviews, Kerrigan serves up positive role models for idealistic young men and women who may feel attracted to public service, sensing the nobility of the calling, but harbor in their hearts a lurking suspicion that it could prove to be their undoing.  This book rings an encouraging bell: still in this day and age, integrity and power are compatible, high office is not a refuge forscoundrels, and indeed genuine heroes still walk among us.

Daryl J. Glick, Ph.D. Former professor of Ethics, U. of Notre Dame.




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Andrew V. Abela

Michael Kerrigan has done a great service by compiling a wealth of insights from ten outstanding “characters with character.”  The need for leadership from a basis of sound character is great today; this book should be required reading for anyone responsible for raising or coaching the next generation of leaders, including parents, educators, and managers. Our current crop of leaders would benefit from reading it too.

Andrew V. Abela, Ph.D. Chairman, Department of Business & Economics The Catholic University of America




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Fr. C. John McCloskey III

There is nothing more dangerous for the health of a society than  a widespread cynicism regarding  a nation’s leaders  especially when they  are  at the higher  levels of government whether in Congress, the Presidency, or the Judiciary. This is of particular importance in the United States as we are a people who believe ourselves  to be exceptional and rely on the words of our Founding Fathers as  contained in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution to be followed as close as  possible by our leaders in their original intent to assure our continued existence as a Nation.

In the present times as perhaps never before in our history, there is great distrust  not only the actions of our leadership  but also  of  their motives in holding their positions in government  and the world of politics. We want to see men and women of virtue and integrity as leaders whose only goal  is serve the citizens of our country even though they may share some  of  the defects of al all men.

This this why Michael Kerrigan’s book, ” Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character” is so important. Kerrigan, a long time Washington insider is most assuredly not a cynic. He  gives us concrete example of men who embody many of the traits  we wan to see in our leaders. These engaging profiles include  men and  women who  have striven to live the good life with fortitude in many high level positions full  of temptations and trials. They give us hope.  This book is a must read  and antidote for the cynical and discouraged and and useful to teach  the younger the  among us that it is possible to be selfless in the service of our nation. I highly  recommend it.

Fr. C. John McCloskey III is a Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington DC.




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Terry Bracy

Twenty years ago, a talented Washington advocate named John Zorack proudly published a detailed description of the methods of the lobbying profession, including a long list of do’s and don’ts which included such principles as “always tell the truth” and “tell the other side of the story before your opponent does.”  Entitled the Lobbyist Handbook, Zorack’s account of a lobbyist’s life was marked by pride in a role which he judged to be among the most important in the policy making process.  Two decades later, a fellow practitioner, Michael Kerrigan, has found it necessary to defend this same process by employing lessons learned from his Jesuit education and reading of moral and political history.  I find Kerrigan’s ambitious argument to be both interesting and persuasive, and I would put it on the must-read list for anyone interested in a Washington career.

Zorack’s Washington and Kerrigan’s are different creatures, shaped by twenty years of high profile scandal — heard of Jack Abramoff? — and the geometric rise in the cost of running for office.  In 1990, Members of Congress legislated four or five days each week and spent relatively little personal time raising campaign cash.  Today, Members typically arrive in the Capital on Tuesday morning — after a weekend of weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the usual political fare in their districts — only to start “dialing for dollars” from special rooms set up in the Congressional campaign headquarters of both parties.  Votes are packaged as “consent” items that evening.  For the next two days, serious work takes place in committees and on the floor before Members head for the airport and a repeat of the prior week.  In Zorack’s Washington, Members of both parties played golf on weekends and socialized with each other, creating relationships which bore fruit in the legislative process.  In Kerrigan’s Capital, Members of opposing parties nod at each other as their lives collide in the security lines of local airports.  Such an environment makes bipartisanship almost impossible.

Yet from this gloomy picture of Washington, Kerrigan has unearthed the stories of ten “characters with character,”  talented Americans who have overcome the system  to make the process work. I certainly cannot argue with his list of heroes, although my own would include names like Mo Udall and Bill Bradley, men who have shaped my life and career.  But I know many  who made his list, and I would certainly endorse the author’s taste in public servants.  In each of their tales and interviews lies some gem that can be taken away. But what ties Kerrigan’s theme together is his constant reference to the timeless principles of citizenship and morality and how these lives and careers have in some way reflected those truths.

Terrence L. Bracy is a practicing lobbyists and the chair of the board of trustees for the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, an independent federal agency based on Tucson, Arizona.




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character By Richard Kelsey, Esq.

“Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  So it is written from Lord Acton’s Dictum.   The problem with that old axiom, seductive as it is to those who follow politics and understand the human condition, is that the axiom assumes an absence of free will.   Michael Kerrigan’s thoughtful book, Politics and Principle: Ten Characters with Character, demonstrates that the human condition is predictable only in that it is wonderfully unpredictable.  Kerrigan helps us to see that people of character are not doomed to corruption.


Politics and Principle marries real life experiences with real people, and it shows the readers that who we are is the sum of the choices we make and the code by which we choose to live.  As a consumer of political theater, I find it easy to ascribe intentions and make assumptions about the motives of political operatives and leaders.  In a sound bite, infomercial society, it is easy to strip a public figure of his or her humanity and create a caricature of that person colored by one’s own political bias.


In Politics and Principle, Michael Kerrigan allows us to view the experiences and decisions that shaped the lives of people who prove that public service, ethics, and yes, character, may live alongside the trappings of power.  This refreshing look at a politically diverse group of true individual leaders is a window on what is possible when character is defined by us, instead of for us.  If power corrupts, then character cures.


—  Richard Kelsey, Assistant Dean, George Mason University School of Law, Virginia.




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By B.J. Costello

Politics with Principle is an important, practical book delving into the integrity and good character of practitioners of the art of politics in the 20th Century. The author’s unique relationships with his ten subjects is a canvas on which he skillfully paints their portraits.  We learn their personal stories and gain in-depth insight into their good character.  They answer similar questions and candidly share their views on how their personal beliefs guide their actions.

These tales demonstrate how heroes can be real people who achieve their dream by overcoming challenges with actions grounded in faith, dictated by their dedication and accomplished through competence.  The author illustrates these actions by frequently providing the reader with a historical prospective ranging from ancients to the modern times.  He also offers relevant quotes to illustrate the principles he characterizes.

Each individual provides the reader with an intimate view into their personal and professional lives and beliefs by describing their mentors, defining moments and the price they paid for asserting their positions with integrity. This book is a good companion to Senator John McCain’s Character is Destiny which teaches specific virtues by stories of individuals who inspire and motivate.

This is a counterweight to today’s headlines – a guide to how good character is formed and developed by highly successful achievers operating in the political cauldron known as democracy.  The reader is left to conclude that work in public service is indeed an honorable profession; that good character counts and, in many instances, makes the difference to critical solutions.

Bartley J. Costello, III, Esq. is a practicing lobbyist and Attorney (Principal) at Hinman Straub P.C. Albany, New York




Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Steve Parrish, Esq.

At a time when many Americans are frustrated by what they see as intense polarization in government and the media, Mike Kerrigan has reminded us that there are dedicated public servants on both sides of the aisle who value progress over partisanship.  Kerrigan introduces us to ten individuals who understand the difference between compromising one’s positions and compromising one’s principles, who understand the difference between an adversary and an enemy. This book should be read by anyone who thinks our system is irretrievably broken and by everyone who is willing to work constructively to make it better.

Steve Parrish Consulting Group, LLC



Review of Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character

By Peter Hampson

Greedy bankers award themselves even higher bonuses!  British MPs cheat on expenses!  Government minister abuses office to award contracts!  On both sides of the Atlantic we have become accustomed to headlines such as these and might be forgiven for thinking that power inevitably corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Is it possible to develop, retain and exhibit those old fashioned qualities of honesty, reliability, integrity, grit, determination, prudence and other virtues in positions of social, economic, political power and influence and social prestige?  Michael Kerrigan’s answer is a resounding ‘yes’ and he believes he has the data to prove it.   In Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character, Kerrigan provides evidence that there are at least ten good people and true at the heart of the US political, diplomatic, military and judicial establishment who have managed to develop and maintain real character strengths despite the temptations, roadblocks, and sheer attrition of serving in high office.  And, he implies, there is no reason to suspect that there are not hundreds of other folk out there in positions of responsibility and power who are similarly blessed.  Here indeed is an optimistic thesis for uncertain times.

The book itself falls into four main parts: a brief introduction setting the scene for what follows and which includes a brief consideration of character and virtue, a set of biographical sketches of the ten characters themselves, a series of well structured interviews in which all ten are usefully asked the same questions on personal life, values, life in politics, and the workplace, and a short concluding section looking for themes, commonalities, and differences in what make a ‘character with character’.

The heart of the book lies without doubt in the rich data set of bio-pics and interview responses. These not only sketch a vivid picture of the enduring and timeless quality of the human moral life but also furnish a useful resource for present and future researchers wishing to analyse further the frank and honest responses in Kerrigan’s sample.  Here, I have to confess, I might personally have wished for a fuller initial exploration of the idea of character, and a more thorough analysis of the emergent themes at the end.  As its stands, at least through the eyes of a psychological scientist, Politics with Principle is really a rich set of structured-interview data crying out for a more focussed theoretical contextualisation, and a more detailed analysis with qualitative methods.  To be fair, Kerrigan did not set out to write an academic text; instead he wants to seize the popular imagination and, to a large extent, the characters and interviews speak for themselves.  In this respect the book achieves its aims.

So what is there to learn here? If nothing else, the characters themselves were fascinating.  Nine men and one woman, a statistic which may speak volumes to some, they included national and local politicians and political activists, both Democratic and Republican, lawyers, diplomats, admirals and venture capitalists, though in some cases participants fell into more than one category.  Whatever moral character strengths our characters possess, and they had many, it also seemed to me that there may be some deeper, shared personality factors at work here. Although not necessarily moral in themselves, such basic psychological qualities as openness to experience and confidence, conscientiousness, moderate to high levels of extroversion, agreeableness, and low levels of neuroticism are very likely to be socially valuable. These more fixed psychological traits may not only have predisposed the entry of our heroes into if not assured their smooth passage through public life, but also might have made their real character strengths more likely to become ‘second nature’.  Once again, therefore, I must confess, this time to groaning inwardly a little as yet another larger-than-life extrovert politician, polymath diplomat, or goal-focussed, doubt-free admiral strode centre stage sporting these qualities in abundance – and no doubt the medals and chest to prove it!  I imagined myself wandering forlornly through the corridors of power looking for someone who had developed ‘good character’ though lacking a ‘big personality’, or despite suffering a mood disorder say. But, in mitigation, I always took my episodes of The West Wing slowly and with a good glass of wine, if not a large pinch of salt, and I rather liked Toby Ziegler who showed a different sort of loyalty after all!

That aside, despite the characters’ widely differing backgrounds, life experiences and career trajectories, there are some interesting common features here.  The influence of a religious upbringing leaps off the page, though whether this could be easily replicated in secular Britain I very much doubt.  Assuming there are any characters with character left in the UK, a similar exercise there might allow one to test whether religion is a sufficient but not strictly necessary component of character development, or whether some looser notion of coherent early ‘moral framework’ is all that is needed, at least to develop what Plotinus and Aquinas called the ‘political virtues’.  Likewise, a stable and loving family life cropped up time and time again, but whether this is a causal factor or an index of and tribute to an already well developed character is again a moot point.

This consistency of many background factors was matched, not surprisingly, by the identification of familiar prized traits such as truth-telling, integrity, courage, judgement, dedication, hard work and faithfulness to God.  The life of good habits which form good character also shone through.  If the reader needed a clearer explication that the life of virtue requires practice, persistence, fortitude and the ability to ‘hang in there…and form a tradition of it’ , here it is!  But, interestingly, the recurring if not identical themes of background, values and habits were not matched by a similar consistency in world views.  The latter ranged from a belief in ‘the golden rule’, to ‘faith’, ‘politics’, ‘making a difference’, ‘freedom from interference’, and the religion of ‘America’, to mention only a few!  One might question the efficacy of all of these as equally effective motivators or guarantors of an integrated set of character traits, even if the sincerity with which they were expressed was self evident.

For the human and social scientist all this is interesting at two levels.  First, it bears out the thesis that as good character becomes routinised, virtuous traits become second nature.   Hence, asking respondents for what they believe their real motivators to be may not provide a full description of the dynamics of moral behaviour.  Like skilled drivers or golfers, the actions of stable characters are now so much a part of themselves that their explicit account of their world view may at times be widely at variance with how they actually act as moral beings-in-the-world.  Try asking a skilled cyclist to explain how they really balance a bicycle, and their account will very likely bear little resemblance to the physical or psychological principles known to be involved. Secondly, and more worryingly, the dissociations of behaviour and world view tended to corroborate philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s point that, in losing the language of virtue ethics, our public narratives of the moral life have lapsed into incoherence.  There were a couple of notable exceptions to this general rule in the data set, but, if anything, this made the achievement of the remainder even more impressive. Although they often lacked a fully articulated intellectual, ecclesial and philosophical framework to make full sense of how they behave morally, contra mundum the virtues of many of these admirable folk still shone through.

So, on the whole this is a very useful and interesting book.  A sea change is clearly underway: character and virtue are back – if they ever left!  And Michael Kerrigan is doing great work in letting those beyond the academy know this.  Politics and principle may not be oxymoronic after all!


Professor P.J. Hampson Acting Head of Department of Psychology Faculty of Health and Life Sciences University of the West of England, Bristol Frenchay Campus Coldharbour Lane BRISTOL BS16 1QY


Politics with Principle

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10 Character Profiles
The Honorable Anne K. Bingaman Charlie R. Black, Esquire
The Honorable Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. The Honorable William M. Bulger
The Honorable Benjamin L. Cardin Ambassador Richard Carlson (Ret.)
Paul F. Eckstein, Esquire Admiral Thomas C. Lynch (Ret.)
Ambassador Charles T. Manatt (Ret.) The Honorable Richard J. Santorum
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