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The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance In The White House

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"The Presidential Character" unifies political psychology, history, and biography to help readers understand the complex factors that influence our vote. In addition, the author includes predictions actually written and published before Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush ever served and presents an analysis of how predictions work.


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"The Presidential Character" unifies political psychology, history, and biography to help readers understand the complex factors that influence our vote. In addition, the author includes predictions actually written and published before Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush ever served and presents an analysis of how predictions work.

30 review for The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance In The White House

  1. 5 out of 5

    e.

    I feel like I should go easier on this book because it was conceptualized and written before the field of psychology decided to stop playing philosophical games and actually work on becoming a real science, but I won't because this book is another wonderful example of the pseudo-intellectualism that used to dominate the "soft" sciences. (And does, in fact, still dominate much of political science, with the maybe-exception of the quantitative methods that are slowly being adopted.) Drawing conclu I feel like I should go easier on this book because it was conceptualized and written before the field of psychology decided to stop playing philosophical games and actually work on becoming a real science, but I won't because this book is another wonderful example of the pseudo-intellectualism that used to dominate the "soft" sciences. (And does, in fact, still dominate much of political science, with the maybe-exception of the quantitative methods that are slowly being adopted.) Drawing conclusions from observations and analysis is all well and good, but far, far too often the theorist lets his or her own biases significantly affect the theory. Barber's pejorative chapter on Reagan is a very, very good example. I was left with the impression that Barber had found every way possible to tell us that he thought Reagan was an incompetent idiot without actually outright saying the sentence, Reagan was an incompetent idiot. Overall, much of this book felt intuitive. Confident people that like to work make better leaders! People with self-esteem problems make terrible leaders! The evidence is questionable simply because much of it came from the recollections and memoirs of each President or the people near him, and a good portion of it after the fact. There always remains the question of how much of it is completely true and not just said to bolster (or slander) an image. That said, I doubt he would have been able to find any "perfect" evidence, and finding similarities in the various descriptions is about as close to decent evidence as one is likely to get in this kind of work. While not perfect, and certainly using a (mild form of) psychoanalysis is a bit on the antiquated side, the book does paint accurate portraits of broad personality types that can end up in leadership positions. If nothing else, it gives you something to consider about yourself and those around you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Henry Sturcke

    Previous books assessing presidents tended to be rankings, best to worst. Barber asked the question, "Best for what?". He established an Aristotelian grid, with active-passive on one axis, positive-negative the other. The resulting four quadrants provided an analytical tool not only for evaluating past presidents, but also for predicting future performance. There is a clear danger of reductionism in this, and Barber concedes that no individual exactly fits a category. Barber has a clear preferenc Previous books assessing presidents tended to be rankings, best to worst. Barber asked the question, "Best for what?". He established an Aristotelian grid, with active-passive on one axis, positive-negative the other. The resulting four quadrants provided an analytical tool not only for evaluating past presidents, but also for predicting future performance. There is a clear danger of reductionism in this, and Barber concedes that no individual exactly fits a category. Barber has a clear preference for those he feels fit in the active-positive quadrant (FDR, Truman and JFK). It's not surprising, then, that he feels the active-positives have the greatest chance of success. This flip side of this, passive-negative, are exemplified by two not often grouped together: Coolidge and Eisenhower. One wonders if forty years of historical hindsight might lead to another assessment of how Ike conducted his presidency. More tragic, though, both for the individuals as well as for the nation, are three Barber groups as active-negative: Wilson, Hoover, LBJ. The common pattern he detects in them is "a process of rigidification, a movement from political dexterity to narrow insistence on a failing course of action despite abundant evidence of the failure" (p. 18). The heuristic value of Barber's analytic tool could be seen when he turned from analyzing the past to predicting the future, in the case of the then-sitting president, Nixon. Here, Barber's analysis led him to group Nixon with active-negatives, and to foresee the strong possibility of reacting rigidly to crisis. Barber admitted that, at the time of writing (late 1971), there was as yet no sign of it happening, but boy did events from 1972-74 bear him out. Not the last word on presidential performance, but an eye-opener for me when it first appeared that gave me much to think about.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tony Cavicchi

    James David Barber wrote a prescient book for his time. Just into the beginning of Richard Nixon's second term, Barber penned a leading theory of presidential behavior. His take: it's driven by the presidential character, developed in the formative periods of each president's life. Barber groups presidents into four groups: active-negative, passive-negative, active-positive, and passive-positive. Negative/Positive refers to how a president feels about his work, with active/passive describing his James David Barber wrote a prescient book for his time. Just into the beginning of Richard Nixon's second term, Barber penned a leading theory of presidential behavior. His take: it's driven by the presidential character, developed in the formative periods of each president's life. Barber groups presidents into four groups: active-negative, passive-negative, active-positive, and passive-positive. Negative/Positive refers to how a president feels about his work, with active/passive describing his style and how he attempted to wield power. Woodrow Wilson and LBJ, for example, were active-negatives. Barber demonstrates how the active-negatives may strive for different policy results, but each reaches his own tragic ending. He then predicts the same for Richard Nixon, claiming Nixon's hubris would soon descend into illegality and scandal. Of course, this was only a year before Watergate erupted in all its ugliness. Barber's descriptions of the active-negative in many ways were typecast, however. He would describe the farthest out characteristics of this personality, only to comment a president had not exhibited the full manifestation yet. In many ways, Donald Trump, with his feverish desire to get things done simultaneous with his well-known disdain for the swamp/deep state/media represents the reductio ad absurdem of Barber's portrait of the active-negative president, bearing out Barber's theory as a long-lasting explanation of the use of power by American presidents.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    This was required reading in an excellent Political Science course I took on American presidents. It divides presidential characters into four basic types: Active-Negative (Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon); Passive-Negative (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower), Passive-Positive (Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Ronald Reagan) and Active-Positive (Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman). Theodore Roosevelt as Passive????!!! My word... But then you get the feeling th This was required reading in an excellent Political Science course I took on American presidents. It divides presidential characters into four basic types: Active-Negative (Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon); Passive-Negative (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower), Passive-Positive (Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Ronald Reagan) and Active-Positive (Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman). Theodore Roosevelt as Passive????!!! My word... But then you get the feeling that Barber definitely favors the "Active-Positive"--or maybe it's just the presidents he favors get categorized as such. And that getting labelled as "passive" has less to do with personality, but rather Barber's perception about whether the president seeks to aggressively expand the role of government. Just reviewing the subheadings for his Reagan chapter (this revised edition was published in 1992) makes me twitch. Just the way the scare quotes were used: "Super-siding" the Rich. The Reagan chapter drips with contempt. I have to give credit to my professor--she was more fair. She didn't hide that she was a liberal and a Democrat--but simply in their own terms and goals she counted Reagan as a successful president---and presented to us why--and Carter as a failure. (I remember one dimension was their ability to delegate. Barber by the way passes over the Carter presidency for comment.) So while I do think it's interesting to think of presidents in these categories, I do take a lot of what Barber has to say with a whole barrel of salt.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alvin Steingold

    This was assigned reading in the political science class that I was taking at the time of the Watergate Hearings. Although I haven't read it in a long time I do remember it as offering some great insights into the character of our Presidents. There is no question in my mind that it is as relevant today as it was then. As you can see, I plan to read it again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bill Daniels

    I knew about Professor Barber's book and thesis sometime before I read it! It is true that people can be divided into two groups: those who divide people into groups and those who don't. I am locked into the first.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John Ervin

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric Murphy

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Small

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rick Orci

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gm

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jad Madi

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katie Troilo

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sami

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

  21. 5 out of 5

    Margo

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rmadd101

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Thomas

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Peterson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matt Parbs

  26. 4 out of 5

    Frank Consalvo

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nate

  28. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Davidson

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eric

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