Gore’s people skills still need polishing

By Jennie M. Scott and Joshua Jipson
St. Cloud Times
March 12, 2000

It’s well after dark on Feb. 14, 2002. Do you know where your president is?

Should Al Gore occupy the Oval Office, you probably will, because in all likelihood that’s exactly where he’ll be — right there in the Oval Office, attending to the people’s business.

Gore’s personality stands like a granite pillar in stark contrast to that of his boss, Bill Clinton, whose presidency has been tarnished by sexual misconduct. Though Gore’s record is not entirely unblemished, he splattered his political suit only after he joined forces with bad-boy Clinton, and his transgressions have been technical, not sins of the flesh.

Our research shows Clinton is an ambitious, somewhat narcissistic, outgoing president. People with these personalities are typically charismatic, confident and comfortable in the public eye.

To the chagrin of Clinton’s staff, however, the distinctive feature of this character type — as predicted by the personality theory of Theodore Millon — is “a seductive and erotic orientation.” Thus, when entrusted with power they have a proclivity for assuming politically untenable positions.

Gore, in contrast, is a highly conscientious, dutiful introvert — almost the polar opposite of Clinton. According to Millon, introverts like Gore not only are less impulsive than extraverts like Clinton, they also experience “only mild or meager affective and erotic needs.”

Gore’s introverted disposition makes him unlikely to succumb to the unrestrained urges that undid his boss, and his conscientious character serves as a ready wet blanket to smother any flickering libidinal flames.

These ingrained personality differences between Clinton and Gore also are reflected in their leadership skills. In his book, “High Hopes: The Clinton Presidency and the Politics of Ambition,” political psychologist Stanley Renshon describes three core components of political leadership influenced by character and personality: mobilization — the ability to arouse, engage, and direct the public; orchestration — the organizational skill and the ability to craft specific policies; and consolidation — the ability to achieve one’s policy objectives.

Where the charismatic Clinton is a good mobilizer, skilled at energizing the public to rise up in his support, the meticulous, detail-oriented Gore is more adept at orchestration.

Neither is particularly well suited for consolidation, though the silver-tongued Clinton has a decided edge as a wheeler and dealer. Gore, on the other hand, will work fervently to accomplish his policy goals and will excel in establishing the policy structures and procedures necessary for implementation — but still may fall short because of his lack of interpersonal skills.

The problem for highly conscientious personalities like Gore is Wilsonian rigidification, a mulish tendency to dig in and refuse to budge on matters of “principle.” A President Gore could fall victim to this weakness — the tragic blemish on the Wilson presidency — and exhibit a self-defeating potential for dogmatically advancing a favored policy or principle despite legislative or public disapproval.

Does Al Gore have what it takes to be a world leader? The conscientious Gore, though introverted, is moderately dominant — a close match for a foreign policy orientation that political psychologist Lloyd Etheredge has called “bloc” leadership.

Bloc leaders, like Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover, seek to reshape the world in accordance with their personal vision, and their foreign policies often are characterized by the tenacity with which they advance one central idea.

In short, Gore’s personality profile portends bold leadership with a self-defeating potential, partially offset by the natural cautiousness and prudence of conscientious personalities.

The conventional wisdom is that the scandals of the past seven years will hamper Gore’s chances of being elected president. In our opinion, however, the vice president’s close association with Bill Clinton will help rather than hinder his electoral prospects. In fact, we believe “Clinton fatigue” is a much overblown media creation, devoid of substance. Gore’s lack of charisma is infinitely more likely to be an impediment to his election.

In November, Aloof Al will be squaring off against Gregarious George — or possibly Maverick McCain, should the dauntless senator from Arizona decide to enter the fray as an independent. It is not outside the realm of possibility that these scintillating personalities could blind voters to Al Gore’s true presidential mettle, just as Big Bad Bill dazzled us in 1992, despite common knowledge of his character flaws.

Since the advent of television, almost invariably the more outgoing, charismatic candidate has prevailed. Charisma, a valuable political commodity, can have the treacherous effect of concealing deficiencies in other skills and talents necessary for effective leadership. Thus, while his deficits in alluring appeal bodes ill for Gore, at least voters need not fear a polished veneer that might mask the proverbial fatal flaw.

If elected, Gore will be a radically different kind of president than Clinton. Gore’s personality enables him to focus on the job at hand, relatively unswayed by polls or a need to pander to the public. He will likely be an able but private president, somewhat uncomfortable in the spotlight.

While it is impossible to predict exactly what kind of president Gore will make, one thing we do know is this: the only thing under Gore’s desk will be his feet.

Jennie M. Scott is a first-year political science major from Alexandria, Minn. Josh Jipson is a sophomore English major from Lakeside, Wis. They are collaborating in leadership studies conducted by Aubrey Immelman, associate professor of psychology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, in the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics.