Barber`s Presidential Character

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Prepared for GVPT 475
Instructor: James M Curry
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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:
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Style
World View
Character
Political Situation
Climate of Expectations
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Active-Positives
Active-Negatives
Thomas Jefferson
John Adams
Presidential
Character
James Madison
George Washington
Passive-Positives
Passive-Negatives
Categorizing Presidents
Barber argues that the first four presidents fit
nicely into the four categories of the typology…
Active-Positives
Active-Negatives
Thomas Jefferson
John Adams
Franklin D. Roosevelt
LBJ
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
JFK
Richard Nixon
Presidential
Character
James Madison
George Washington
Ronald Reagan
Calvin Coolidge
William H. Taft
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ulysses S. Grant
Passive-Positives
Passive-Negatives
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?
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