Robert W Merry writes: In 1972, Duke University professor James David Barber brought out a book that immediately was heralded as a seminal study of presidential character. Titled The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House, the book looked at qualities of temperament and personality in assessing how the country’s chief executives approached the presidency—and how that in turn contributed to their success or failure in the office.
Although there were flaws in Barber’s approach, particularly in his efforts to typecast the personalities of various presidents, it does indeed lay before us an interesting and worthy matrix for assessing how various presidents approach the job and the ultimate quality of their leadership. So let’s apply the Barber matrix to the presidential incumbent, Barack Obama.
Barber, who died in 2004, assessed presidents based on two indices: first, whether they were “positive” or “negative”; and, second, whether they were “active” or “passive.” The first index—the positive/negative one—assesses how presidents regarded themselves in relation to the challenges of the office; so, for example, did they embrace the job with a joyful optimism or regard it as a necessary martyrdom they must sustain in order to prove their own self-worth? The second index—active vs. passive—measures their degree of wanting to accomplish big things or retreat into a reactive governing mode.
These two indices produce four categories of presidents, to wit:
Active-Positive: These are presidents with big national ambitions who are self-confident, flexible, optimistic, joyful in the exercise of power, possessing a certain philosophical detachment toward what they regard as a great game.
Active-Negative: These are compulsive people with low self-esteem, seekers of power as a means of self-actualization, given to rigidity and pessimism, driven, sometimes overly aggressive. But they harbor big dreams for bringing about accomplishments of large historical dimension.
Passive-Positive: These are compliant presidents who react to events rather than initiating them. They want to be loved and are thus ingratiating—and easily manipulated. They are “superficially optimistic” and harbor generally modest ambitions for their presidential years. But they are healthy in both ego and self-esteem.
Passive-Negative: These are withdrawn people with low self-esteem and little zest for the give-and-take of politics and the glad-handing requirements of the game. They avoid conflict and take no joy in the uses of power. They tend to get themselves boxed up through a preoccupation with principles, rules and procedures. [Continue reading…]