In his book, The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House
, James David Barber
puts forth the theory that a president's style of leadership and the way his presidency turns out is a result of his personality
and pattern of thinking. Barber maps presidential character on two different lines: active
, and positive
Active-Positive, or Adaptive
This type of president has relatively high self-confidence, and will usually work hard to better himself and the country. He tries to use power in a generally beneficial manner, and enjoys his office and his power. Barber gives as examples of active-positive presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, and Harry S. Truman.
Active-Negative, or Compulsive
This type of president also works extremely hard to better the country, but finds no joy in his position or in his power. He is often agressive, ambitious, perfectionistic, and anxious. Barber gives as examples of active-negative presidents Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon.
Passive-Positive, or Compliant
This president has weak self-esteem, and is generally fairly easy to manipulate. He masks this lack of self-confidence with a superficial optimism, and a generally hopeful attitude. Their most important priority is generally a search for validation and affection. Barber gives as examples of passive-positive presidents Ronald Reagan, William Howard Taft, and James Madison. (Bill Clinton would probably fall in here; possibly George W. Bush as well).
Passive-Negative, or Withdrawn
This president is generally in politics out of a sense of duty, because he feels he has to be. He generally is not a natural politician, and neither gains much happiness from serving as president nor puts a large amount of effort into his presidency. Barber gives as examples of passive-negative presidents George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George Bush, Sr.
As you can see, active-positive and passive-negative display a sort of congruence that the other two do not. They seem to make sense, essentially. It is no wonder that these are the men whose presidencies seem clearest to us, looking back on them (less disagreement). Active-negative and passive-positive have contradictions rooted deep within their personalities that make for extremely interesting (and controversial) presidencies. Why would someone who derives no joy from working to lead his country bother to work so hard at it? And why would someone with low self-esteem superficially put up a front of an optimistic, ingratiating personality? These are not easy questions to answer, and they go to the root of what made these men great.
Barber, James David. The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House, 4th ed., Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1992.