Monday, December 30, 2013

Presidential Character: Finals

So, as I've laid it out this year considering James David Barber's Presidential Character, how did it all play out?

Active-Negative (total count: 17)

John Adams
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
William Harrison
John Tyler
Zachary Taylor
James Buchanan
Andrew Johnson
Grover Cleveland (counts twice)
Woodrow Wilson
Herbert Hoover
Lyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
Jimmy Carter
(Dick Cheney) (considering the damage he did, he counts)
Active-Positive (17)

Thomas Jefferson
James Monroe
James Polk
Millard Fillmore
Abraham Lincoln
Rutherford Hayes
James Garfield
Chester Arthur
William McKinley
Teddy Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
John Kennedy
Gerald Ford
George Bush I
Bill Clinton
Barack Obama

Passive-Negative (3)

George Washington
Calvin Coolidge
“Ike” Eisenhower
Passive-Positive (8)

James Madison
Franklin Pierce
US Grant
Benjamin Harrison
William Taft
Warren Harding
Ronald Reagan
George W. Bush

It's not too surprising there are more Actives than Passives elected (or promoted) to the office: politics is an ambitious game and few enter it out of a sense of Duty or Congeniality.

That noted, the main question usually becomes: which Character is better than the others?

Professor Barber himself tried to dissuade such thoughts:

The key correction is this: a person with a healthy personality can carry that strength into political harm... Even a politically defined personality, such as Presidential Character, may not be an adequate predicter (sp) for choosing the right candidate.  Beside character, style and world view are highly significant. Specific skills are needed for the presidency and they are not at all determined by character... (p. 397)

There have been times when having an Active-Positive - arguably the one Character that makes the most sense of having in office - had been harmful to the Presidency and/or the nation, usually because such men were overconfident (FDR), overly optimistic (Jefferson), or sometimes too obsessed with the gameplay to make effective decisions (Kennedy).  A-Ps tend to be nice to have, but it'd be nice to get one tempered with enough self-deprecation to avoid over-reach, but with enough confidence to get everything done that needs to be done.

One can argue against having a Passive-Positive in office due to the track records of such men having scandal-plagued administrations - Grant, Harding, Reagan, Bush the Lesser - but even in Harding and Reagan's cases there were effective programs enacted and agendas achieved, and other Pass-Positives like Taft and Benjamin Harrison were not as scandal-prone.

Passive-Negatives are few and far between (due to the sheer improbability of such a trait pursuing political careers they would habitually loathe), and while two of them presided over relative eras of improvement and sanity - Washington and Eisenhower - all three (including Coolidge) presided over administrations that were unresponsive to the problems percolating under each, allowing those problems to become more dire consequences further down the road.

Leaving Active-Negatives as the major concern if one should ever be offered a chance to win the White House in the future.  The damage left in the wake of the more modern A-Ns (Johnson, Nixon, and yes I include Cheney because his influence on his boss' tenure is practically a presidency unto itself) has been horrendous, made greater by the current level of power the current Executive branch wields.  Previous A-Ns - save for Jackson, I would think - rarely wielded the level of authority a modern, post-World War President currently maintains.  The level of abuse with such authority - Johnson's pursuit of superiority, Nixon's obsession with control, Cheney's lust for power -  ought to scare anyone making serious observations about candidates for 2016 and beyond seeing anyone with A-N traits.

That said, when 2016 rolls around... break out the psycho-analysts and tell me just how emotionally scarred the GOP front-runner is: I guarantee you the nature of the modern party is to try for another Passive-Positive hoping the smiling face will distract from their morally vacant platform to win them votes...

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