Liz Flanders PoliSci 391 Personality and U. S. Presidents in the 21st Century Paper 10. 19. 10 The presidency of the United States is arguably the most important position to hold in the entire country. The president is the figurehead of the country; the person people look to for reassurance and the person they blame when something goes wrong. Of the forty-four presidents that our country has seen to this day, each of them has their own distinct character and personality. Some will argue that the personality of the president shapes their performance in office.
One of these people is James Barber, author of the book The Presidential Character. In his book, Barber makes an argument concerning the impact of personality and presidential performance. He believes that the character of the president matters above all, and through his system of personality types, citizens will be advised in choosing the right president through some clear criteria. Barber organizes his theory of presidential character into four different trait-based dimensions. The first two dimensions are activity and passivity, measuring how much energy and activity each person devotes to his presidency.
The last two dimensions are positive and negative affect, measuring the person’s feelings about what they do as president, whether they experience political life as happy or sad, enjoyable or discouraging. These baselines lead into four basic character patterns – active-positive, active-negative, passive-positive and passive negative. Barber argues that every president of the United States can be placed into one of these categories. Active-positive Presidents would be highly energetic and active, while truly enjoying their duties as president and having high levels of self-esteem.
They would be flexible and adaptive to different situations and set specific goals to achieve. Sometimes active-positive presidents can get into trouble from a sense of arrogance and lack of understanding why others do not see things the way they do. Active-negative presidents are also highly active in office, but do not gain a sense of emotional reward or enjoyment from their hard work. They feel a need to dominate over others and are power hungry, pushing the limits of the constitution and refusing to concede defeat.
Passive-positive presidents seek affection through being agreeable and cooperative. They have low levels of self-esteem and try to compensate through pleasing everyone. They are very dependent on others and do not challenge the status quo, hoping their likeability and seeming optimism will be good enough in office. Passive-negative presidents do not put much energy or activity into politics, and do not gain any enjoyment from their role in office. They see it as their “dutiful service” to take on the role of Commander in Chief, and have low levels of self-esteem because they feel futile and useless.
They have a tendency to be withdrawn and secretive to the public, only involved in politics because they think they should be. Each of these four character dimensions can be applied to any president, past or present. Although each President has had their own decisive way of leading the country with differing personality traits, it is not problematic to place each person into one of these four typologies, given that they are in such general terms. Currently, president Barack Obama can be observed to fit into one of Barber’s four character dimensions.
Although he has only been in office for nearly two years, Obama’s personal character has been a clear and defining aspect of his presidency. Obama wants to achieve the personal goals he sets for himself and see change come out of his time in office. Already, he has put an extreme amount of energy into his presidency, signing economic stimulus legislation to help pull our country out of the recession it was in when he took office. He also went to great lengths to make sure that a major piece of health care reform was put into effect, despite opposition and efforts to stop it from the other side.
Obama has demonstrated his adaptive nature in office, working with all different types of people to try and build a more widespread community of trust for our country. This type of leadership is important to work across party lines and with officials from other countries to see change and results. Even the average citizen can see that Obama gains a considerable emotional reward from his duties as President. He enjoys doing what he does and feels good about himself for it. Barack Obama is clearly an active-positive president – energetic and happy, flexible in his productiveness, goal oriented with high self-esteem.
He enjoys political life and takes pride in being the President. President Obama truly enjoys being President and finds self worth and emotional reward from the energy he puts into his activities. In Barber’s book, he writes “there is a congruence, a consistency, between much activity and the enjoyment of it, indicating relatively high self-esteem and relative success in relating to the environment” (Barber, 135). Obama has exerted a sense of enjoyment from his work as president, and also on the campaign trial, learning to relate to each environment he visited.
He exerts a sense of hopefulness and possibility for the future. During his Presidential campaign, his key slogan was “Yes we can! ” running on the platform of giving hope for the future to the American public. This sense of hopefulness and optimism that you can almost see radiating from Obama’s body is exactly what an active positive person encompasses. In an article on Obama’s presidency thus far in the game, Peter Baker discussed the president’s character as being rooted in his sense of self that came at an early age, growing up with a single mother and experiencing some trying times.
Baker writes, “as Gibbs put it: ‘He has a remarkable way of focusing on the big picture and the longer term. It’s not to say that he’s immune from criticism. But he can categorize in his head the difference between what’s a setback, what’s a bump along the way and what’s just noise’” (Baker, 5) This sense of being able to stay true to himself while still acknowledging his mistakes to work on them shows how he respects himself and regards his work highly.
Obama’s energy and happiness are defining traits that place him into the active-positive characterization. Obama has engaged in historic amounts of activity in his presidency in just less than halfway through his first term. Barber, in his book, states that an active-positive president “sees himself as developing over time toward relatively well defined personal goals – growing toward his image of himself as he might yet be” (Barber, 135).
Obama certainly has a sense of being goal oriented that has proven to be one of the main reasons for his success. He has set personal goals for himself as president to help not only the country, but to help himself grow as a person. So far, he has passed historic legislation like the Recovery Act, health care reform, Wall Street regulation, the Credit Card Act, investment in clean energy, and saving the auto industry to name a few. In an article from Rolling Stone Magazine, Tim Dickinson asserts, “this resident has delivered more sweeping, progressive change in 20 months than the previous two Democratic administrations did in 12 years” (Dickinson, 1). Clearly, his character is active and goal oriented, taking time to set personal goals for himself that he succeeds in achieving. Obama’s success in setting personal goals for himself as president is a clear aspect of the active-positive character dimension. Barack Obama has displayed characteristics of being flexible and adaptive in his Presidency, and even in his life beyond the White House.
Before running for President, Obama wrote a book called “The Audacity of Hope,” calling for a more kinder, calmer sort of politics. He dreamed of the day when Washington could look past party lines and work together to get things done. This sort of willingness to be flexible and adapt to different situations to be able to work with people of opposing viewpoints is a quintessential characteristic of an active positive president.
In Barber’s description of the different character dimensions, he says that in an active-positive president, “the man shows an orientation toward productiveness as a value and an ability to use his styles flexibly, adaptively, suiting the dance to the music” (Barber, 135). Adapting to different situations and “suiting the dance to the music” of different countries to gain greater diplomatic ties and respect for the United States is exactly what Obama has done. In his article, Dickinson says that Obama has “managed to boost America’s standing in the rest of the world…U.
S. approval ratings in Western Europe have soared into the 60s and 70s – far higher than during the unilateralism of the Bush era” (Dickinson, 4). Obama has transformed the individualistic and narrow approach to foreign affairs and relationships that Bush had to a flexible, accommodating style that transformed the way the rest of the world views us. Obama’s adaptability has restored America’s reputation and contributes to his active-positive nature and character.
The president has the most important role in the country, and the American public keeps a watchful eye on his decisions, actions and personality. James Barber’s theory of presidential character can easily generalize president Obama into the active-positive character dimension. Barber writes, “whether a man is burdened by power or enjoys power; whether he is trapped b y responsibility or made free by it; whether he is moved by other people and outer forces or moves them – that is the essence of leadership” (Barber, 134).
Barack Obama is a great leader with high self esteem, energetic and happy, setting goals for himself to achieve and having a sense of adaptability in different political environments. His character, in essence, is an active-positive personality that is not finished showing this country how immense his leadership is to create change and hope for the future. Bibliography Baker, Peter. “Education of a President. ” The New York Times 12 Oct. 2010: 1-8. Dickinson, Tim. “The Case for Obama. ” Rolling Stone Magazine 13 Oct. 2010: 1-5.