In a column in 2004, John Dean reported on an analysis by political scientist James David Barber of presidential personalities as a predictor of presidential performance:
Barber has catalogued presidents based on the similarity of their personalities and character traits. His first baseline is to describe them as either "active" or "passive" regarding their work. This he determines by looking at how much energy they invest in the work of the presidency. For example, Lyndon Johnson was a human dynamo; Calvin Coolidge slept eleven hours every night and took naps during the day.
The second baseline for Barber is how presidents react toward their work: "positively" or "negatively." Generally speaking, he seeks to determine if their political experiences are satisfying. To quote Barber, "The idea is this: is he someone who, on the surfaces we can see, gives forth the feeling that he has fun in political life?"
Examples of president who had fun notwithstanding the burdens of power are Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- placing them on the positive side of Barber's typology. No doubt Barber would have found Bill Clinton there as well
-- except perhaps toward the difficult end of his second term.
Barber's four categories are active/positive (Example: FDR), active/negative (Example: Nixon), passive/positive (Example: Reagan) and passive/negative (Example: Jefferson).
It is the active/negative group that is the most troubling.
The Troubles of Active/Negative Presidents
Active/negative types, broadly speaking, are aggressive in pursuing their political and policy aims, yet they get little true emotional reward from undertaking these endeavors.
In addition to Richard Nixon, Barber says Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and Lyndon Johnson were active/negatives -- all presidencies that did not end well.
In his book and his other writings, Barber has noted that for active/negative types that "[l]ife is a hard struggle to achieve and hold power" -- one in which they are "hampered by the condemnations of a perfectionist conscience."
"[A]ctive/negatives pour energy into the political system, but it is energy distorted from within," Barber notes. He found that these presidents are "much taken up with self-concern," and they always want to know if they are "winning or losing, gaining or falling behind."
Active/negative evaluate themselves "with respect to virtue." They view their actions (if not the world) as being good or bad. Their "perfectionistic conscience" provides no room for growth through experience, for they expect themselves to be good at all they undertake. Their ethics result in "denial of self-gratification," for these men see themselves as self-sacrificing rather than self-rewarding. They are "concerned with controlling [their] aggression … reining in [their] anger."
These presidents are capable of generating "tremendous energies for political domination." They are also uniquely stubborn men, who become more rigid and inflexible as they proceed, for they become caught up in their own self-righteousness. And as Barber says, they mask their decisions not to budge, their rigidity, in whatever rhetoric is necessary, so that they can ride the tiger to the end. They also are our most secretive presidents.
Failure by these presidents is predictable because their flawed perceptions are often risky, they are gamblers, and their rigidity can easily plunge the nation into a tragedy. This occurred with Wilson -- whose presidency was marred by a failed peace accord, a disintegrating economy, and refusal to admit the impact of a debilitating stroke. It occurred with Hoover -- who ineffectively presided over the nation's most devastating economic depression. And it also occurred with Lyndon Johnson -- his Vietnam debacle and withdrawal from reelection. Finally, and most obviously, it occurred with Nixon -- forced to resign after Watergate .
With such presidents there is always "the potential for grievous harm," Barber warns, observing that while the nation has survived several such presidents, this is "cold comfort to those individuals and families who suffered for what these Presidents did."
Barber admonishes that when we find ourselves with an active/negative president, we have a situation that cannot be ignored -- for all such presidents are potentially dangerous.
Dean went on to marshall the evidence that Bush is, without a doubt, an active/negative president. Now, in a new column, Dean confirms his findings:
President George W. Bush's presidency is a disaster - one that's still unfolding. [...] [He] has continued to sink lower in his public approval ratings, as the result of a series of events that have sapped the public of confidence in its President, and for which he is directly responsible. This Administration goes through scandals like a compulsive eater does candy bars; the wrapper is barely off one before we've moved on to another.
Bush has never understood what presidential scholar Richard Neustadt discovered many years ago: In a democracy, the only real power the presidency commands is the power to persuade. Presidents have their bully pulpit, and the full attention of the news media, 24/7. In addition, they are given the benefit of the doubt when they go to the American people to ask for their support. But as effective as this power can be, it can be equally devastating when it languishes unused - or when a president pretends not to need to use it, as Bush has done.
Apparently, Bush does not realize that to lead he must continually renew his approval with the public. He is not, as he thinks, the decider. The public is the decider.
Bush is following the classic mistaken pattern of active/negative presidents: As Barber explained, they issue order after order, without public support, until they eventually dissipate the real powers they have -- until "nothing [is] left but the shell of the office." Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all followed this pattern.
Active/negative presidents are risk-takers. (Consider the colossal risk Bush took with the Iraq invasion). And once they have taken a position, they lock on to failed courses of action and insist on rigidly holding steady, even when new facts indicate that flexibility is required.
The source of their rigidity is that they've become emotionally attached to their own positions; to change them, in their minds, would be to change their personal identity, their very essence. That, they are not willing to do at any cost.
Wilson rode his unpopular League of Nations proposal to his ruin; Hoover refused to let the federal government intervene to prevent or lessen a fiscal depression; Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam while misleading Americans (thereby making himself unelectable); and Nixon went down with his bogus defense of Watergate.
George Bush has misled America into a preemptive war in Iraq; he is using terrorism to claim that as Commander-in-Chief, he is above the law; and he refuses to acknowledge that American law prohibits torturing our enemies and warrantlessly wiretapping Americans.
Americans, increasingly, are not buying his justifications for any of these positions. Yet Bush has made no effort to persuade them that his actions are sound, prudent or productive; rather, he takes offense when anyone questions his unilateral powers. He responds as if personally insulted.
And this may be his only option: With Bush's limited rhetorical skills, it would be all but impossible for him to persuade any others than his most loyal supporters of his positions. His single salient virtue - as a campaigner - was the ability to stay on-message. He effectively (though inaccurately) portrayed both Al Gore and John Kerry as wafflers, whereas he found consistency in (over)simplifying the issues. But now, he cannot absorb the fact that his message is not one Americans want to hear - that he is being questioned, severely, and that staying on-message will be his downfall.
Other Presidents - other leaders, generally - have been able to listen to critics relatively impassively, believing that there is nothing personal about a debate about how best to achieve shared goals. Some have even turned detractors into supporters - something it's virtually impossible to imagine Bush doing. But not active/negative presidents. And not likely Bush.
Active/negative presidents -- Barber tells us, and history shows -- are driven, persistent, and emphatic. Barber says their pervasive feeling is "I must."
Barber's collective portrait of Wilson, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon now fits George W. Bush too: "He sees himself as having begun with a high purpose, but as being continually forced to compromise in order to achieve the end state he vaguely envisions," Barber writes. He continues, "Battered from all sides . . . he begins to feel his integrity slipping away from him . . . [and] after enduring all this for longer than any mortal should, he rebels and stands his ground. Masking his decision in whatever rhetoric is necessary, he rides the tiger to the end."
Dean speculates that Bush and Rove are hatching up another "October Surprise" to hijack the November mid-term elections, in which, at this point, the Republicans seem poised to lose what could be a significant nmber of seats. That could tie in to the recent "shake up" and Rove being moved out of a policy job (which was incidental to his true work in any case, except insofar as policy in Bushland is subordinate to winning elections and primarily designed for that purpose) -- perhaps Rove's desk was being cleared so he could concentrate on the October Surprise?
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.