Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Barack Obama and John McCain: Personality, temperament and Narrative (Part 1)

Personality has played a big part this election season. A few months ago it was considered the wrong field to play on for Barack Obama, no doubt fearful of the "who would you rather have a beer with?" personality test that foiled Democratic nominee John Kerry the previous election.

Obama: 'Not about the issues' comment means making stuff up
The Illinois senator said he’s not running for president for his “pretty good personality” and that it’s a sign Republicans intend to scare voters away from him...

“I mean I think I’ve got a pretty good personality! But that’s not why I am running for president,” Obama said, later adding, “If you want it to be about personalities, you know, we’ll go out for a beer sometime and we’ll talk but you know you don’t have time, you’d rather spend it with your family.”

Personality has suddenly become a valid test for the Presidency - disguised as "narratives" and euphemistically called "Character" and "Temperament". Things have turned the last few weeks as Barack's "cool under pressure" demeanor has impressed the electorate relative to McCain's "erratic" appearance. Even before this was crystallized during the Presidential dry run of the Global Economic crises, one could argue the Obama campaign was surreptitiously always about personality if his top Media adviser David Axelrod is anything to go by
The Sixty-Day War - John Heilemann
In the trade, Axelrod is known for being averse to issues and policy, for preferring to focus on softer qualities of character, biography. “His brilliance is his ability to communicate emotionally with voters about his candidates, to bring out what makes them personally compelling and drive a larger narrative based on that,” says Hillary Clinton’s former communications czar, Howard Wolfson.

The Latest issue of Time Magazine features "Temperament" in its cover article.
obama, mccain, temperament, personality, time magazine
The Temperament Factor: Who's Best Suited to the Job? - Nancy Gibbs
...full-blown clich├ęs. Obama is aloof, self-possessed, cool under fire; McCain is passionate, impetuous, hot under the collar. Each one makes a virtue of his temperament as the right setting for the current climate. Americans, McCain says, "expect me to get angry, and I will get angry, because I won't stand for corruption." His impulsive intervention in the bailout negotiations suited his narrative as an action hero...

Ironically Barack Obama is fighting the personality war with John McCain the same way John Kerry fought it with George w Bush. Calculating this time it will work to the Democrat's favor.

Conservative defectors Christopher Buckley, David Brooks, Heather Mac Donald, Colin Powell among others have all used words like "intellectual curiosity", "depth of knowledge", "intellectual vigor". Silently coded as a contrast and welcome departure from the George W Bush' personality type.

As counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke commented on serving under George W Bush
The Choice 2004 - Decision making style
He doesn't reach out, typically, for a lot of experts. He has a very narrow, regulated, highly regimented set of channels to get advice.

One of the first things we were told was, "Don't write a lot of briefing papers. Don't make the briefing papers very long, because this president is not a reader. He likes oral briefings... He's not into big meetings, and he's not into big briefing books."

We will know in two weeks which personality America prefers.

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