Analysis of Presidents of the United States of America

The position of President of the United States of America is one of the most visible roles in the world. He is perceived to be the leader of one of the most powerful nations, militarily and economically. The job is very much sought after by a number of Americans. Competition for the role is fierce and a long process of selection has emerged. However, the personal qualities needed to become President and to be President seem quite different in a number of ways.

In this essay I will describe the role of the President, his powers and how he can use them; I will then show, using Barbers’ classification what it takes to be President.

I will then discuss how an individual may become President using the example of Bill Clinton in 1992 and referring to Barbers’ analysis, explaining the different qualities. To understand what it takes to be President, it is firstly necessary to understand what the Presidents’ role is. The United States Constitution gives the President a number of formal roles to perform.

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The President is Chief Executive, Commander-in-Chief, Chief foreign diplomat, and Appointer for high offices not provided for in the Constitution. His informal powers are Chief legislator, by way of giving the annual State of the Union’ speech, and recommending “necessary and expedient” legislation together with the power of veto. He is also head of the national Party by virtue of holding the most senior post possible in a respective party. Congress and the Supreme court have opposing powers to the President which limit his ability to carry out these roles.

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This, together with the inability of each institution to be able to reprimand each other results in separate institutions sharing power. The President must therefore find ways of using his influence to perform his roles. Neustadt argues that there are four key constituencies which the President must pay attention to. In no particular order, these are, the government’ constituency which mainly consists of Congress and the Executive staff: party: the ‘national constituency: and lastly, the ‘overseas’ constituency. The President must meet the expectations and needs of each of these constituencies, “Executive officials want decisions, Congressmen proposals, partisans want power, citizens want substance, friends abroad want steadiness and insight and assistance on their terms – all these as shorthand statements of complex material and psychological desires.”

To make life more difficult , Neustadt also points out the problems that the President has in getting things done. Truman remarked about the incoming Eisenhower “He’ll sit here….and he’ll say ‘Do this! Do that!’ and nothing will happen. Poor Ike – it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.” What Neustadt is implying is the separation of the President from other offices and the lack of retribution he has on them – that is he cannot fire them – means that they are firstly, free to follow their own agenda or have their own constituency worries. For example, a Congressman has his own electorate, interest groups, ideas on ‘good’ legislation, their own enhancement of power, prestige, career opportunities and private gain. As can be seen, the President and his worries are not an overriding concern to a Congressman.

Similarly with party, the President cannot command them to do anything they do not want to do due to the lack of retribution. With other world leaders, compromise, treaties and so on are the only possible results. Neustadt argues that the President performs two real roles, he makes choices and he persuades others to carry out those choices. These occur in different ways, through different areas of responsibility, but it always in one of these two ways which the President makes a difference to the political system. Ultimately, there are choices which can only be made the President as it only he who has his job and sees things from the position that he is in, individuals may also defer difficult decisions to him as they do not wish to have the responsibility of the decision. Once the President has made a choice, he must then persuade others to carry them out. This, as according to Neustadt is the real skill of the President. As argued earlier, he cannot rely on others to carry out his wishes without question. He must therefore use his powers to persuade and convince others to do what he wishes.

This portrays the Presidents role as a bargainer, a negotiator and a manipulator in order to execute his roles of Chief Executive, Commander-in-Chief, Ambassador, Appointer and Chief legislator. According to this analyse, the President must be a good persuader. he must be able to compromise and bargain with people who have an independent base of authority and share influence. Without the power to persuade, the Presidents roles become weakened. However, as Nixon and Carter showed, it is possible to command rather than persuade – but their Presidencies are now seen as poor. James David Barber attempted to create an easy classification system which voters could use in deciding who to vote for in a presidential election. He attempted to classify each President according to personality type. He classified them according to their ‘world-view’ and their ‘style’. Barber defines world view as the Presidents, “primary, politically relevant beliefs, particularly his conceptions of social causality, human nature, and the moral conflicts of the time.”

Their style is their “habitual way of performing three political roles: rhetoric, personal relations, and homeworth.” Barber argues that these two concepts can be operationalised by two simpler questions, “How much energy does the man invest in his presidency?” – Is he active or passive. “Does he seem to experience his political life as happy or sad….positive or negative in its main effect?”

consistency between much activity and the enjoyment of it, indicating relatively high self-esteem and relative success in relating to the environment …shows an orientation to productiveness as a value and an ability to use his styles flexibly, adaptively” John Adams Woodrow Wilson Herbert Hoover Lyndon Johnson Richard Nixon “activity has a compulsive quality, as if the man were trying to make up for something or escape from anxiety into hard work …seems ambitious, striving upward, power seeking …stance toward the environment is aggressive and has a problem in managing his aggressive feelings” Passive James Madison William Taft Warren Harding Ronald Reagan “receptive, compliant, otherdirected character whose life is a search for affection as a reward for being agreeable and cooperative …low self esteem (on grounds of being unlovable).”

George Washington Calvin Coolidge Dwight Eisenhower “low self esteem based on a sense of uselessness …in politics because they think they ought to be …tendency is to withdraw, to escape from the conflict and uncertainty of politics by emphasising vague principles (especially prohibitions) and procedural arrangements.” Table to show Barbers’ classification of the Presidents up to 1985. Barber asserts that active-positive Presidents are the best, “His high sense of self-worth enables him to work hard at politics, have fun at what he is does, and thus be fairly good at it.” The passive-positive is affection seeking, although not hard working. The passive-negative “neither works nor plays; it is his duty, not pleasure or zest.”

Active-negative Presidents are power seekers who see a series of perpetual barriers in front of them which need to be broken down, they therefore persist in disastrous courses of action because their psychological constitutions do not allow them to concede that they are wrong. Barber therefore concludes that an active-positive President is best, and the active-negative worst. According to Barber, it takes an active-positive person to be President. He has great energy for the job and enjoys doing it, but not primarily out of any sense of duty or personal gain in affection or attention. A number of criticisms have been levelled at this typology. The two main ones are that it is over-simplified and is not accurate enough. In regards to the first, Barber argues that it is a shorthand device which is intended to be used by the voter in assessing whether a Presidential candidate is good enough for the job. He states that we are talking about tendencies, broad directions, no individual man exactly fits a category.”

In regards to the second criticism, Barber argues that they are “crude clues to character” and that these two typologies are the most critical. Furthermore, these traits are easily identifiable by all – whether voting for a candidate or assessing the presidency. The two indicators are also good in that they are mutually exclusive, “The activity baseline refers to what one does, the effect baseline to how one feels about what he does.” The placing of the Presidents in certain typologies does not necessarily explain what makes a good or a bad President For example, some of the best thought of Presidents such as Washington are placed not in the active-positive role but in passive-negative. Similarly, great Presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt are in the same category as Jimmy Carter. This generalisation appears too broad and does not clearly distinguish between two such characters.

Again Barber, in his defence states that it is only a broad generalisation, but it does appear that in some cases this is too broad. There are two basic types of Presidential candidate, whose distinctions alters their campaign style. These are the new candidate and the incumbent President going for his second term. The incumbent has a record to defend, is well known by the electorate and has experience in winning a campaign before (unless they became President through the elected President not lasting the full term). He also is unlikely to be opposed in the primary race for the candidates nomination, as Bill Clinton at present. The new candidate is usually less well known at the beginning of the campaign, has to usually compete in fierce primary selections, not have a record to be able to draw examples from, have little or no experience in running for President, and may have more trouble in raising funds, donators may be more willing to give to an incumbent who is more likely to retain the position rather than a candidate calling for change.

What it takes to become President is a very different set of skills and so almost requires a different person. They have to endure a long, hard campaign trail lasting some 18 months and which now costs millions to run. The basic process begins by campaigning for the party nomination in the primary/caucus system. The object of this is to gain votes for the delegates who have pledged to support an individual candidate at the partys’ nominating convention. This involves campaigning in every state to have the electors vote for you in the party nominations. At the party convention, the delegates, elect their party candidate for President. From here, each nominee attempts to persuade voters to vote for them in the Presidential election. It is a first past the post system – a candidate winning a state by simple majority. However, each state is worth a different amount. They are the equivalent to the total number of Congressmen each state has, this goes forward to the Electoral College. There are 535 votes from the states plus 3 from the District of Columbia.

To win the Presidency, a candidate must amass at least 270 Electoral College Votes (ECVS) thereby gaining a majority of the votes. If Neustadts main analysis is that being President is the power to persuade, a case can be made that the campaign trail is a training ground for the position. The candidate must persuade a number of groups at different stages to elect him President. He must convince doners to fund him, he must participate in the primary system, persuading nominators in each state to nominate him. He must then persuade voters in the general election campaign to vote for him as President.

Although the situations are vastly different, it can be seen that the principles are the same, he who manages to persuade the best, does the job the best, in being the President it is getting things done, and in becoming President it is winning. The need to win states in the election itself lends itself to a long hard campaign trail, involving targeting ‘winnable’ states and persuading the voters to elect him before moving onto another state. The example of Bill Clinton in 1992 shows the need of the candidate to have almost unlimited energy, “His wife, Hillary and aides were often hard pressed to persuade him to catch some sleep. Clinton frequently wanted to go on.”

To refer back to Barbers’ analysis, it seems likely that an individual with a high level of persistence – an active disposition – will fair much better in the modern campaign. However, it seems a distinction can be made on the positivel negative typology. An individual who sees life in negative terms, life is a constant battle with barriers to be broken down seems better suited to the campaign style of winning states or a stage in the selection process then moving on. The example of Bill Clinton shows a number of attributes useful in becoming President.

The attributes needed to become President are very different to the ones of being President. Firstly, the candidate needs to be either rich or command a vast amount of resources. He needs to convince donators that he is capable of winning, they should donate their money to him and it is somehow in their interest to do so (by this I mean that a pro-life group is not going to support a candidate who believes in pro-choice, and so on). Secondly the ability to outline policies without individuals. Clinton took this to an extreme, especially at the beginning of his campaign, “we can be pro-growth and proenvironment, we can be pro-business and pro-labour, we can make government work again by making it more aggressive and leaner and more effective at the same time, and we can be pro-family and pro-choice.” This in a less extreme form prevents the candidate outlining a policy and alienating those who oppose it, this broad based approach presently has great appeal among the electorate and so is more likely to get a candidate elected.

However, if done too excessively as the example above clearly does, it runs the risk of being ridiculed and not believed. Carter in 1976 was identified as making 111 promises during the primaries and Presidential campaign, these promises “were fair and decent promises; they embodied every hope of every group and institution … No hope any liberal had expressed anywhere at any time would be ignored.” Linked to the broad based approach is the third skill of adaptability – altering policy slightly depending on the audience it is aimed at. The most effective way is to condition any policy on the necessity of future events also occurring, therefore a pledge to build more roads will occur only if defence spending is cut successfully. The forth attribute which benefits a candidate is a good perception of public opinion, enabling a candidate to talk about the right issues at the right time, in sufficient depth or generalisations to satisfy the electorate.

Fifthly, the candidate needs an enormous amount of self control, to be able to take constant criticism, scrutiny and allegations relating to the past. An individual who fails to do this will be perceived as not in control of their emotions, or be seen as not of Presidential calibre. The sixth attribute is good strategy awareness, essentially, the ability to see the ‘big picture’ – devise a realistic campaign based on it, and then implement it effectively. The seventh involves their manipulation of the media, especially television. Nearly half of all campaign budgets are spent on mass communications. Marshall McLuhan observed that “the medium is the message,” meaning that on the television a candidate needs to show a number of qualities despite the message, a certain amount of Presidential presence – looking like a president, telegenaity – looking good on camera, and good communication skills.

The last attribute is probably the most important, that of campaign management, the candidate has to be able to effectively choosing and co-ordinating a team of campaigners on an often multimillion budget, delegating effectively and ensuring that the campaign goes smoothly. Without a strong campaign behind him, his candidacy will amount to little. Clintons’ reorganisation in June 1992 of his campaign team, with important delegations and a more direct, clear chain of command, helped Clinton to improve his ratings in the polls. Once President, the candidate needs to adapt these attributes to suit the office, he must be able to talk about specific policies and try to get them passed by Congress. He must remain adaptable, perceptive and in control, but the media will now focus much more on him rather than him as a number of candidates and it may be argued that media manipulation has to be done more so by the President than a candidate.

Especially, if the present campaign is looked at, where nearly all of the campaign propaganda is negative and tries to draw attention away from each candidate onto the ‘bad’ side of the others. What it takes to become President and what it takes to be President are indeed two contrasting sets of characteristics, but which do sometimes overlap. Neustadts’ analysis about Presidential persuasion could be also applied to a candidate persuading party, voters, and doners that he is the one for the job. Barbers’ analysis of what it takes to be President can be applied to what it takes to become President because he intended it as a guide to who would be the best President from the given list of candidates. He shows a difference in the characteristics needed in becoming and being President in the outlook they have on life; a good President is likely to be positive whereas a good candidate will have a negative view. There are a number of attributes identifiable with becoming a President which the example of Bill Clinton shows.

The Candidate, in order to succeed needs to be rich; an ability not to alienate sections; adaptable; a good perception; self control; an ability to see the big picture; a media manipulator; and most importantly, a campaign manager. As President, these can be seen to change, he does not need to be rich; he needs to be able to talk about specific policies and get them passed into legislation, and his role as campaign manager falls by the side as there is no campaign. More emphasis is placed on adaptability; perception; control; ‘the big picture’; and media manipulation. What it takes to be President and what it takes to become President are indeed two different sets of attributes, the psychological approach has shown the differences born out by the analysis of Barber but also shows the compatibility demonstrated by Neustadt and the more objective analysis of Bill Clinton. Inevitably, the two roles are always going to need different attributes simply because they are two distinct roles, one is attempting to run one of the most powerful nations in the world, the other is trying to win a national election.


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Analysis of Presidents of the United States of America. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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