A Presidental Character by James David Barber


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AP Government and Politics

In the book The Presidential Character, by James David Barber, Barber talks about the different personalities of previous presidents and how their personalities had a negative or positive influence on their election and term as president. A person's character shows a lot about who they are as a person.
" Character is the way the President orients himself toward life - not for the moment, but enduringly. Character is a person's stance as he confronts experience. And at the core of character, a man confronts himself (Barber 8). " Barber's book is also useful to see how prepared a candidate is to be president. Judging a person's personality, especially a person who is constantly in the spot light, helps you to understand what kind of person they are, what they are passionate about, how they handle themselves in stressful situations, and really anything if you put enough research into it.
James David Barber simplifies his theory by dividing character into four different group patterns. He tries to support his theory and convince people that one person can be subjected to one group. A person who is considered active-positive is a person who has a high self esteem, values productivity, and is constantly working towards their own personal goals. An active-positive person is also considered well adapted (Barber 12). Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, were all - according to Barber, considered to be active-positive people (McGuire). An active-negative character puts excessive effort into their work but does not receive or feel their own emotional reward. They are rarely satisfied with the work they have done. They are also said to have compulsive and perferctionistic personalities (Barber 12). Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Abraham Lincoln, and Lyndon Baines Johnson were judged to be active-negative. William Taft, and Warren Harding, labeled as receptive, compliant, affection seeking, agreeable, and easily manipulated people. In Barber terms they are considered to be passive-positive (McGuire and Barber 12). The final group, called passive-negative, consists of people who are not enthusiastic about politics, have a low self-esteem, do not have much experience, are vague, but feel that they have a certain civic duty. The best example of a person who was passive-negative would be America's first president, George Washington; he did not necessarily want to be the president, or at least not the first president of America.

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He felt pressured but was elected unanimously and he felt that he had a duty to his fellow Americans. Other presidents which fall into the passive-negative group are Calvin Coolidge, and Dwight Eisenhower.
The Presidential Character is a pretty convincing book because it is full of what seems to be all fact. By some, his book is considered to be bias, fake and "psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo (Davis)." In a critical essay written by John R. Owens he talks about how James Barber is naïve for believing that he there is one set definition of a person's character. He goes on to poke fun at Barber's theory of having four different groups. He also criticizes Barber's ideas saying that they are not "universal" and that they are not accurate enough (Owens). Douglas J. Hoekstra seems to agree with some of the things that Owens has said in his essays. Hoekstra wrote an article reviewing The Presidential Character, in his article he talked about his boredom with the book and its redundant ness. Surprisingly, he partially agrees with Barber when he said, "Although some analyses focus on presidential ‘ideology' or on ‘belief system' to understand presidential choices." Hoekstra continued on to make fun and contradict Barber by saying, "…most contemporary scholars look elsewhere…" He was say that modern say scholars, unlike Barber, would look other things other than character.
Although persuasive, James Barber is pretty persuasive about his ideals about the different characteristics of different individuals. The sole reason that he is convincing is because he is able to back-up his opinion of why certain people should be labeled with a certain characteristic. He recognizes specific people throughout his book and talks about this person's past and what made them to be the way they are. His most convincing argument, I felt, was about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt lived a very independent and rigorous life; full of discipline and structure. By the time Roosevelt was old enough to go to school he, "had character, substantial in self-esteem, reaching out in action to master things and charm people…(Barber 215) " at a young age of six he was already mature. Barber uses real life examples for Roosevelt's life to convince the reader that Franklin Roosevelt was indeed an active-positive person. "His attitude continually combined vigorous action with tentative commitment-and attention to result" – something that makes an active-positive person indeed active-positive.
One of the most criticized and media attacked candidates for the 2008 Presidential Election is Hillary Rodham Clinton. Barack Obama, being the "media-darling," is not as heavily criticized as Clinton. She in constantly being criticized and interrogated for everything she does or says. "The Clintons, as always, feel wronged; by the press, by Obama... (Myers)." The Clintons (Hillary and Bill) always believe that someone is out to get them. In Myer's article he writes that he believes that Barber would instruct us to pay close attention to Bill Clinton throughout the campaign because he is a large part in the campaign and will be a large influence throughout Hillary's term if she becomes president (Myers). Personally, I would label Hillary Clinton as an active- negative candidate. I think that she likes having and holding onto power but that is never satisfied with what she does. She also does not seem to be one hundred percent comfortable with a leader position. Reading Myer's article made me realize that she does indeed stand behind Bill and that because of him she is famous and powerful. To some degree that bothers me because she should not hang on her husband's accomplishments. She also seems to be a perfectionist; her hair and clothing are always completely in tact and perfectly folded and ironed. When she speaks she seems to be always thinking about what the right thing to say would be, what she says isn't always the right thing but she may think it is. For some reason I see her as the type of person who is always kicking herself so things she has done and is always harping on little tiny details which is also why she is also a perfectionist in my mind.

Works Cited

Barber, James David. The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White
House 2nd Edition. London: Prentice Hall International Inc, 1977.
Davis, John. "Barber Reacts to Criticisms of his First Two Editions." Political Science.
Oklahoma State. Jan. 2004. 28 Feb. 2008. Spring_2004/BARBER%20REACTS%20TO%20CRITICISMS.doc>
Hoekstra, Douglas J. "Presidential Beliefs Vol. 27." Presidential Studies Quarterly. 1997.
27 Feb. 2008. .
McGuire. "James David Barbers: The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in
the White House." Spot. Colorado University. 27 Feb. 2008.

Meyers, Dick. "First Gentleman Bill." CBS News. 31 Jan. 2008. 26 Feb. 2008.

Owens, John R. "Book Reviews and Essays." JSTOR. 2008. 26 Feb.
2008. 612%2970%3A4%3C1299%3ATPCPPI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-
P&size=LARGE&origin=JSTOR-enlargePage.>


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