Presidential Personalities October 29 2015, 1 Comment

Politics in Personality-Ville



 By John Skipper, author of The Iowa Caucuses: First Tests of Presidential Aspiration, 1972-2008

 How many of us have assessed the world situation and asked ourselves, "Why would anyone want to be president?"

 For most of us, it is a rhetorical question, one that requires no answer, because, really, it is more of a statement.

 So, what is it? What, among those who have become president and those who have sought it, has motivated them?

 It is reasonable to believe that between George Washington and Barack Obama and all who have served in between them, there is no single personality trait. 

 There have been many studies done over the years to identify dominant characteristics of presidents. A look at some of these is useful in assessing present-day candidates and their likelihood of succeeding to the presidency and, more important, succeeding in the presidency.

A study done by Scott Lilienfeld, professor of psychology at Emory University concludes, presidents "need to be bold and self confident to be willing to run, but they also have to have an amazing capacity to delay gratification and a lot of impulse control..."

 "Presidential Temperament,” a study done by David Keirsey and Ray Choinere, theorizes that the actions of presidents arise from the temperaments each was born with. They identify four basic temperaments:

 Artisan: colorful, charming, daring, spontaneous, often showing remarkable bravado. Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan fit this mold.

 Guardian: Serious, sober, strictly-business, cautious, not charismatic: George Washington, Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter are examples.

 Rational: Analytical, given to theory, long-range planning and strategy: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower had these tendencies.

 Idealist: None. Surprising but true, according to the researchers. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said, "Campaigns are written in poetry. Governing is written in prose." Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi are examples of idealists, according to the authors, both given to grand ideas and ideals but neither would be willing to compromise them in the typical political process of trying to get something done.

 Yet another study, this one done led by psychologist Steven Rubenzer for the American Psychological Association, categorizes presidents this way:

 Actors - (Charismatic): Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are examples.

 Extroverts - Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy would fit this definition.

 Dominators - Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson could match this.

 Good Guys - Gerald Ford and Dwight Eisenhower are examples.

 Innocents - William Howard Taft and Warren Harding exemplify these traits.

 An important consideration in evaluating the personalities of presidents is that, like all of us, they can have multiple personality traits so it is difficult to draw any specific conclusions without their direct input. But in looking at personality traits of past presidents, and deciding for ourselves which presidents we think were the most successful, it will give us insight into evaluating the present group of candidates.

 There is the bombastic Donald Trump, the meek Ben Carson, the steady Jeb Bush, the cool and calculating Hillary Clinton, the assertive Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina; the challenging Bernie Sanders, and the professorial Marco Rubio.

 Another trait to consider is how Clinton and Bush, like the Kennedys and Roosevelts before them, are carrying on the "family business" of politics that dates back to Presidents John Adams and son John Quincy Adams and William Henry Harrison and grandson Benjamin Harrison.

 A trait not mentioned specifically in any of the studies but is a common denominator for anyone who wants to be president is this: An enormous ego.