Barber’s Presidential Character Prepared for GVPT 475 Instructor: James M Curry
Introduction • The thrust of Barber’s book is that we should be able to tell a lot about a president before he (or she) takes office based on the psychological make-up of the candidate. • Barber identifies five factors that comprise presidential psychology: • Style • World View • Character • Political Situation • Climate of Expectations
Style • Barber defines style as one’s “habitual way of performing his three political roles: rhetoric, personal relations, and homework” (p. 5). • In other words, style is the way in which a president approaches his or her job. Does he or she do so primarily through rhetoric, through direct bargaining, through intense analysis of the details of policy, or some balance of the three? • To Barber, a politician that is well balanced will do best. • FDR, for example, was skilled at each of these tasks and used all three in seeking to pass his preferred policies. • Carter, on the other hand, was known as a micro-manager who was not skilled at either negotiating with Congress or making effective speeches.
World View • Simply, world view is one’s orientation towards the world. How does the president view human nature? What are the foundation of his or her morals? In Barber’s word’s, “Style is his way of acting, world view is his way of seeing” (p. 5). • A president’s world view could help or hurt his or her presidency. A president who sees the human nature as inherently evil, for example, will probably have a hard time working or bargaining with others. • Nixon’s world view was probably a hindrance to him. Nixon saw most everyone as out to get him and as inept. In the end, acting on this world view cost him his presidency.
Character • Character is the way a president orients himself towards life. • Character centers largely around a president’s self-esteem. Is he or she filled with self-confidence to the point of being cocky, completely ridden with self-doubt, or somewhere in between? • Wilson was probably a little too full of himself. As far as he was concerned he was right about how the nation should approach the League of Nations and was not willing to really consider the opinions of anyone else. • Madison is traditionally seen as being on the other extreme. He lacked confidence in his own decisions and feared being criticized by those he respected, especially Thomas Jefferson. He spent the waning years of his life trying to justify every action he took before, during, and after his presidency.
Political Situation • The previous three factors are purely psychology. Political Situation is environmental. It is the particulars of the political environment the president faces. • Does he or she face a friendly or hostile Congress? What about the Supreme Court? Does he or she have the support or opposition of the majority of the public? What is the situation internationally? Is it a time of relative peace and prosperity, or a time of conflict and hardships? • Lincoln and FDR faced a world of strife, but had a lot of support in Congress. Madison and Wilson faced a world of strife, but also opposition in the political system. Eisenhower was blessed with peace and prosperity, public popularity, and a relatively friendly Congress. Clinton likewise served during a time of prosperity, but faced a hostile political system.
Climate of Expectations • Climate of Expectations describes what is expected of a president. As we have discussed, a lot is expected of all presidents, and those expectations have been increasing over time. However, some presidents certainly face more or less expectations when they entered office. • There are incredible expectations for President Obama, for example. He is expected to save the economy, fix our health care system, and successfully resolve two foreign wars. • By contrast, presidents like Coolidge and George H.W. Bush faced much lower expectations upon taking office. Primarily they were expected to just uphold the status quo of the previous administration.
Typology of Presidents • Together these five factors are what Barber uses to create his typology: • Active-Positives are presidents that are positively motivated individuals who enjoy their job and seek results. • Active-Negatives are motivated primarily by the goals of getting and keeping power, but receive little emotional benefit from their job. • Passive-Positives seek power as a way to obtain the love and admiration of the others. They are less interested in absolute power or policy ends, but enjoy the job as long as they are popular. • Passive-Negatives seek the office out of civic duty, but are relatively unhappy in doing the job.
Categorizing Presidents Barber argues that the first four presidents fit nicely into the four categories of the typology…
Categorizing Presidents Other presidents have fit nicely into these categories as well. Can you categorize other presidents? Do you find that some presidents do not fit into this schema very well?