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The Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 530
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    The Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates
    Book Description:

    Debate on public issues--and where candidates stand on them-- have traditionally represented the focal point of presidential campaigns. In recent decades, however, rather than asking where candidates stand on the issues, the public increasingly wants to know who they are. The issue of character has thus come to dominate presidential elections. While there is increasing public awareness that the psychology, judgment, and leadership qualities of presidential candidates count, the basis on which these judgments should made remains unclear. Does it matter that Gary Hart changed his name or had an affair? Should Ed Muskie's loss of composure while defending his wife during a campaign speech, or Thomas Eagleton's hospitalization for depression, have counted against them? Looking back over the past 25 years, Stanley Renshon, a political scientist and psychoanalyst, provides the first comprehensive accounting of how character has become an increasingly important issue in a presidential campaign. He traces two related but distinctive approaches to the issue of presidential character and psychology. The first concerns the mental health of our candidates and presidents. Are they emotionally and personally stable? Is their temperament suitable for the presidency? The second concerns character. Is the candidate honest? Does he possess the necessary judgment and motivation to deal with the tremendous responsibilities and pressures of the office? Drawing on his clinical and political science training, Renshon has devised a theory which will allow the public to better evaluate presidential candidates. Why are honesty, integrity, and personal ideals so important in judging candidates? Is personal and political ambition necessarily a bad trait? Do extra-marital affairs really matter? Finally, and most importantly, how can the public tell whether a candidate's leadership will be enhanced or impeded by aspects of his personality?With this sweeping volume, Stanley Renshon has provided us with the most comprehensive account to date of how the public judges, and should judge, our future presidents.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7663-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Alexander L. George

    The duties, tasks, and responsibilities we have assigned to the president have grown enormously in magnitude and complexity since the depression of the 1930s. The role of the federal government expanded rapidly, and this trend was accompanied by the belief that we must look to the president as the “engine of progress,” the savior of the political system, the fulcrum of the entire governmental system. Given the emergence of this “heroic” conception of the presidency, it naturally followed that the president should be given additional resources and powers needed to perform the critical tasks that only he could be expected...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    We are accustomed to thinking of the use of depth psychology to assess presidential candidates as a recent development in our public life. In fact, the first public application of psychoanalytic theory to the assessment of an American presidential candidate was undertaken in the United States over eighty years ago by Morton Prince, M.D., a follower of Sigmund Freud. In 1912 he wrote an article that appeared in the Sunday magazine section of theNew York Times,titled, “Roosevelt as Analyzed by the New Psychology.” The article immediately created a controversy that directly reached Freud in Vienna.

    From the standpoint...

  6. Introduction: Frameworks of Analysis
    (pp. 5-22)

    Debate on public issues and candidates’ stands on them have traditionally represented the bulk of knowledge sought about presidential candidates. In recent decades, how-ever, an important change has taken place. Presidential elections increasingly revolve around issues of character and leadership. Rather than ask candidates where they stand, the public now wants to know who they are. Rather than depend on what a candidate promises to accomplish, the public wants to know why he wishes to do it.¹ These questions reflect increasing public awareness that the character, judgment, and leadership qualities of its leaders count. The public senses that integrity, vision,...

  7. PART I The Concept of Psychological Suitability

    • ONE The Psychological Suitability of Presidents in an Era of Doubt
      (pp. 25-48)

      The emergence of psychological suitability as a dimension of leadership evaluation can be seen now at all levels of the political system, but nowhere is it more pronounced than in the assessment of presidential candidates. Questions of character, judgment, temperament, and experience have become a routine part of the presidential campaign process. What was once peripheral is now central.

      Looking back on the past quarter century of presidential campaigns, two related but distinctive sets of concerns about the personal and psychological characteristics of presidential candidates are discernible. The first revolves around the emotional well-being and psychological functioning of presidential candidates....

    • TWO Assessing the Psychological Suitability of Presidential Candidates: Ethical and Theoretical Dilemmas
      (pp. 49-72)

      In this chapter, I explore the ethical and practical concerns raised by the application of psychoanalytic theory to a presidential campaign. Can a theory that owes its origins to an attempt to address issues of psychological conflict be a suitable vehicle for studying in individuals those capacities which are substantial enough to propel them to the highest levels of political accomplishment? Are there enough data, of the kind necessary to such analyses, to make them? If such analyses could be made, should they? In making such analyses, is the analyst violating ethical standards? Does he or she violate an individual’s...

  8. PART II Assessing the Psychological Health of Presidential Candidates

    • THREE Psychological Health and Presidential Performance: A Foundation for the Assessment of Psychological Suitability?
      (pp. 75-95)

      Until character issues became prominent, traditional concerns regarding psychological suitability focused on whether a candidate was or might become “mentally ill.”¹ This concern did not originate in any general interest with the psychological functioning of presidents or candidates per se. Rather, it reflected a more limited, specific worry that a president might become sufficiently impaired psychologically to begin a nuclear exchange.

      The demise of the Soviet Union has dramatically decreased the chances of nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers. This, in turn, has lessened concern² about a “Dr. Strangelove” scenario in which a psychotically impaired president triggers a nuclear exchange....

    • FOUR Is the Psychological Impairment of Presidents Still a Relevant Concern?
      (pp. 96-121)

      How much concern should we have regarding psychological impairment of our political leaders? Kearns (1976, 317–18) has argued that

      no matter how well a polity’s institutions are designed, its leaders are subject to lapses from rational functional behavior. Every society learns to live with a certain amount of irrational behavior at the top, but lest the irrationality feed upon itself and lead to general decay, the polity must have the capacity to marshal forces that influence or compel the faltering actors to revert to the behavior that is required if the polity is to function properly.

      A study group...

    • FIVE Assessment at a Distance: A Cautionary Case Study of the 1964 Presidential Campaign
      (pp. 122-145)

      The 1964 election signified the first time in a modern presidential campaign that the mental health of a candidate became a major campaign issue. During the campaign, the Re-publican candidate’s emotional stability and suitability for the presidency were questioned publicly as a campaign issue by his opponent. Was the Republican candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater, emotionally stable enough, Lyndon Johnson (the Democratic candidate) asked, to be in control of the country’s nuclear weapons?

      This presidential campaign is also notable for another reason central to our concerns. During the campaign, a unique psychiatric survey was conducted. In the summer of 1964, the...

    • SIX Psychological Health in the 1972 Presidential Election: The Case of Thomas F. Eagleton
      (pp. 146-176)

      In 1972, the Democratic Party nominated as its vice presidential candidate Thomas F. Eagleton, then the junior U.S. senator from Missouri. Shortly after his nomination, the public learned that Senator Eagleton had been hospitalized three times, twice for lengthy periods, for depression. Furthermore, the media revealed that on several occasions during these hospitalizations he had been given shock treatments. In the face of mounting public and professional opposition, Eagleton was forced to give up his candidacy.

      In the 1988 presidential campaign, rumors were spread by an extremist group that the Democratic Party presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis, had been treated by...

  9. PART III Character and Presidential Performance:: Theory and Assessment

    • SEVEN Toward a Framework for Analyzing Presidential Performance: Some Observations on a Theory of Character
      (pp. 179-204)

      The need for criteria by which to assess presidential candidates has become pressing as character has assumed increasing importance. The American public now routinely evaluates leaders on their “integrity,” “leadership,” and even “intelligence” (Markus 1982; Kenney and Rice 1988; Miller, Wattenberg, and Malanchuk 1986; Krosnick and Kinder 1990). The use of traits to evaluate presidential candidates has much to recommend it. Traits are distinct and specific and, from the standpoint of assessment, seem amenable to measurement at a distance. We can generally tell if a candidate appears well informed, at ease under pressure, or charismatic.

      Moreover, in some instances it...

    • EIGHT Toward a Theory of Character and Presidential Performance
      (pp. 205-230)

      The responsibilities of the presidency have grown dramatically (Rose 1988). In addition to the traditional constitutional obligations, a large and growing list of presidential duties and responsibilities has developed (Cronin 1975, 155; Kellerman 1984, 12–16). The growing number of presidential responsibilities and their complexity appear to defy efforts either to categorize or to accomplish them. Can we discern within this widening list a basic and irreducible core of presidential performance?

      It would be helpful to have an answer to this question that would not depend on specific debates over policies and their effects but would still allow the appraisal of...

    • NINE Character and Judgment in the 1988 Presidential Campaign: A Case Study of Gary Hart
      (pp. 231-254)

      For a short period during the 1988 presidential campaign, Gary Hart, then senator from Colorado, held a substantial lead in public opinion polls over other Democratic Party candidates. But less than three weeks after the announcement of his candidacy (May 8, 1987), he was forced to withdraw from consideration. Although Hart attempted for a brief period to reenter the presidential race, with limited success, revelations about his personal behavior during the campaign essentially destroyed his candidacy.

      The immediate cause of this reversal of political fortune was the discovery that although married, Hart had met, dated, and spent the night with...

    • TEN Bill Clinton as a Presidential Candidate: What Did the Public Learn?
      (pp. 255-279)

      What can be learned about the character and psychology of candidates in presidential campaigns that has relevance for the elected candidate’s performance as president? Do presidential campaigns perform their second major function—that of enlightening the public about the nature of the persons seeking the office, their strengths and limitations? Do campaigns tell us anything important about how the successful candidate, once elected, will govern?

      In this chapter I examine the candidacy of William J. Clinton from the perspective of the three basic character elements: ambition, character integrity, and relatedness. I first examine the extent to which it was possible...

    • ELEVEN William J. Clinton as President: Some Implications of Character for Presidential Performance
      (pp. 280-310)

      As a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton did not appear. hard to place, at least in a preliminary way, in each of the three major characterological categories. He was ambitious and appeared to possess the skills, especially the intelligence, to accomplish his purposes. He showed a capacity to invest himself and an intense commitment to the accomplishment of his purposes. He also exhibited substantial confidence in himself and his abilities. I suggested in the previous chapter that Clinton viewed himself as an honest, open, and caring person. This view was central to his self-image, even though there was substantial evidence during...

  10. PART IV Assessing Psychological Suitability:: The Role of the Press and Presidential Campaigns

    • TWELVE The Private Lives of Public Officials: Observations, Dilemmas, and Guidelines
      (pp. 313-333)

      The 1992 presidential campaign, like its predecessor in 1988, became a forum for the disclosure and discussion of intimate personal information about a presidential candidate. William J. Clinton, the Democratic Party's nominee, was asked to explain an extramarital relationship, his use of drugs, and whether he had manipulated his draft board during the Vietnam War to gain a deferment (Ifill 1992a, Ai; Toner 1992a, A25). Like Gary Hart's before him, Bill Clinton's candidacy was damaged, although he eventually won the general election.

      As with the Gary Hart episode in 1988, the public and those who comment on the disclosure of...

    • THIRTEEN Election Campaigns as a Tool for Assessing the Psychological Suitability of Presidential Candidates
      (pp. 334-356)

      Professional observers of American politics have become deeply critical of presidential campaigns. They are seen as too long, too expensive, and too shallow. Worse, many believe that the focus of campaigns has little to do with issues of consequence for presidential performance. The primary responsibility for this sorry state of affairs is placed by many on the media, in particular, the press. Driven by pressures to stimulate interest, critics argue, the media focus on sound bites and on controversies that are seen as irrelevant to presidential performance. The focus on presidential character and leadership is a key example, in this...

  11. PART V Assessing Psychological Suitability:: Some Applications

    • FOURTEEN Asking the Right Questions of Presidential Candidates: Some Suggestions and Guidelines
      (pp. 359-379)

      The psychological assessment of presidential candidates is a complex task. It involves developing a set of performance criteria for a role that is embedded in a particular institutional and political setting and specifying the psychological elements that shape the accomplishment of the responsibilities associated with that role. I have, in the preceding chapters, examined in some depth the nature of the issues involved and, where possible, suggested some theoretical approaches of possible usefulness.

      Yet it is not to be expected, given the complexity of the issues we have examined, that this work would result in a set of simple decision...

    • FIFTEEN Conclusion: The Good Enough President
      (pp. 380-400)

      Every four years, the public selects one person to be president and delegates to him enormous power and equally enormous responsibilities. We expect him to accomplish a great many things. He is held responsible for us in world affairs. He is held responsible for us in his domestic policies. Most of all, he is held responsible for helping us to realize our dreams, satisfy our needs, fulfill our wants, even while allaying our fears.

      The president also has other responsibilities. Contemporary American democracy is a discourse of many voices, and we expect him to blend this cacophony into a recognizable,...

  12. APPENDIX I Some Observations on Method: Cases, Data and Analysis
    (pp. 401-408)
  13. APPENDIX 2 A Model of Character: Dynamics, Development, and Implications for Presidential Performance
    (pp. 409-411)
  14. APPENDIX 3 Preparing Political Leaders for Power: A Supplement to Assessing Psychological Suitability
    (pp. 412-438)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 439-478)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 479-496)
  17. Subject Index
    (pp. 497-511)
  18. Name Index
    (pp. 512-516)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 517-517)