I'm not a psychologist, but I'm intrigued by the work of those who study the mind and behavior, especially when it accurately explains why people do what they do -- or can't do what they would like or are expected to do. Case in point, President Barack Obama.
In 2008, I wrote a column titled "A Personality Profile of Barack Obama's Leadership." The warnings of mental health professionals then have come to fruition today. And other brain and personality experts, many of whom cast their votes for Obama at the ballot box, have since learned the nation appointed a man to the highest position in the land who cannot lead in or out of crisis, especially in the face of opposing forces.
Six years ago, I pointed to the research of the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict, which did a professional personality profile "for anticipating Obama's likely leadership style as chief executive, thereby providing a basis for inferring the character and tenor of a prospective Obama presidency." The study concluded: "The combination of Ambitious, Accommodating, and Outgoing patterns in Obama's profile suggests a confident conciliator personality composite. Leaders with this personality prototype, though self-assured and ambitious, are characteristically gracious, considerate, and benevolent. They are energetic, charming, and agreeable, with a special knack for settling differences, favoring mediation and compromise over force or coercion as a strategy for resolving conflict. They are driven primarily by a need for achievement and also have strong affiliation needs, but a low need for power."
Samuel Barondes, a leading psychiatrist and neuroscientist, explained in his 2011 expose of President Obama: "Obama's temperament, his combination of dispositional traits, is emphasized in psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi's essay 'Maybe Washington Needs More Craziness.' As Ghaemi puts it in his opening sentence 'If President Obama stumbled in his handling of the debt crisis, in my view, it was because he is too normal: too rational, willing to compromise, a rule follower, conventionally wise.' And he then goes on to contrast Obama with Franklin D. Roosevelt whose greater success he attributes, in part, to Roosevelt's 'hyperthymic temperament ... such people have very high energy levels, and are extroverted, talkative, sociable, humorous, charismatic, productive, libidinous, and workaholic.' To Ghaemi the more moderate temperament of 'no-drama-Obama' keeps him from confronting his adversaries in the manner of FDR.
"Drew Westen, a psychologist with interests in both personality and politics, emphasizes Obama's sense of identity. In 'What Happened to Obama's Passion?' he raises the possibility that Obama hasn't figured himself out yet: 'Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in "Dreams From My Father" appended a chapter at the end that wasn't there -- the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.' Later Westen suggests that Obama is conflicted about his identity and 'ran for president on two contradictory platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue.' But in the end he concludes that Obama is really most comfortable 'consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation.' This, then, appears to be an essential element of what Obama stands for."
Obama's glaring and greatest weakness -- namely his inability to make hard decisions in crisis and lead opposing forces through or out of them -- has cost America on every front. It has further divided Washington and our nation and jeopardized our standing with the global community and even our allies, leaving us in a much more unstable place in our world.
Though most people in 2008 seemed to laud Obama's personality as a needed polar opposite to George W. Bush's, especially in an era that required the repairing of international relations, I posed to readers that Obama's personality pendulum swing was way too far to the other side. An "accommodating-agreeable-conciliator-favoring compromise" type of personality might be good for closing a used car deal when all parties are amicable, but it's not the one that can lead our country through war, divisive crises or emergency conflicts, which often require unpopular actions.
Obama's voting record as an Illinois state senator showed his inability to take a stand in a crisis. His own Democratic colleagues couldn't understand why he had voted "present" (instead of "yes" or "no") 129 times, including a number of noncommittal tallies on gun rights and abortion.
Gone are the days when strong leaders and personalities, such as House Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan, reached across the aisle in order to lead our country. En vogue today are pitching polarities, demonizing your opposition and casting blame to justify one's own divisiveness and inability to bridge gaps.
But what we need now more than ever are leaders like those three decades ago who knew how to agree to disagree agreeably, confronted tough challenges together and advanced our nation forward despite their differences. That is particularly true of our president.