The Political Personality of George W. Bush
The Political Personality of George W. Bush
Brief Research Report
Saint John’s University
I conducted an indirect assessment of the political personality of Texas governor George W. Bush from the conceptual perspective of Theodore Millon’s model of personality. Information concerning Gov. Bush was collected from published biographical accounts and political profiles and synthesized into a personality profile using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria, which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of the DSM-IV. Gov. Bush’s primary personality patterns were found to be Outgoing/gregarious and Dauntless/adventurous (Immelman, 1999).
Outgoing leaders are gregarious, confident in their social abilities, skilled in the art of social influence, and have a charming, engaging personal style that makes people like them. Although they have a tendency to become easily bored, especially when faced with repetitive and mundane tasks, their enthusiasms often prove effective in energizing and motivating others. These outgoing qualities, which Bush shares with President Bill Clinton, are diametrically opposed to Vice President Al Gore’s more introverted disposition.
Adventurous leaders are characterized by strong independence strivings, an ambition to excel, competitiveness, and often by sensation-seeking and risk-taking behaviors. These personalities also have a tendency to be overconfident, and their trademark charm may be somewhat glib and superficial. Bush’s adventurous traits account for what Gov. Bush has called the “so-called wild, exotic days” of his youth—now tempered by age, experience, lifestyle modifications, and political ambition.
An accurate measure of George W. Bush should take into account the joint effect of the Outgoing and Adventurous facets of his personality. Personality theorist Theodore Millon (1996) suggests that this particular blend typically makes for independent-minded individuals who “exhibit a strong need for autonomy and self-determination.” They “seek to do things their own way and are willing to take the consequences of doing so.” In addition they “dislike following the same routine day after day” and tend to be more expedient than conscientious. These traits imply a distinct risk for acting “impulsively and irresponsibly.”
A dimensional reconceptualization of my Millon-based findings in terms of Dean Keith Simonton’s (1988) empirically derived dimensions of presidential style (which mirror the five-factor model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1985) suggests that Bush is a highly charismatic (extraverted), somewhat interpersonal (agreeable) leader, but not very deliberative (conscientious). This profile suggests that a President George W. Bush—despite attempts to cultivate an image of disdain for public opinion—will actively refine his public persona, skillfully maintain his political viability, and be activist and energetic (outgoing qualities) rather than cautious or conservative in his role as chief executive.
A less-than-deliberative President Bush, however, will run the risk of failing at times to fully appreciate the implications of his decisions, displaying sufficient depth of comprehension, or effectively weighing alternatives and long-term consequences of policy initiatives. Furthermore, an outgoing, relatively unreflective President Bush may not keep himself as thoroughly informed as he should (for example, by reading briefings or background reports), may force decisions to be made prematurely, may lose sight of his limitations, and may tend to sacrifice effective policy for political success.
In summary, George W. Bush’s major personality strengths as a presidential candidate are the important political skills of charisma and interpersonality, which should enable him to connect with voters and maintain his early lead in the race. His personality-based limitations include a propensity for superficial command of complex issues, a tendency to be easily bored by routine, a predisposition to act impulsively, and a predilection to favor personal connections, friendship, and loyalty over competence in staffing decisions and political appointments—all of which could render a Bush administration vulnerable to errors of judgment or ethical misconduct.
Ironically, if indeed America suffers from “Clinton fatigue”—in my opinion, a myth perpetuated by the media—it would be better served by electing the conscientious, deliberative, more introverted Al Gore. Relative to Gore, George W. Bush’s outgoing personality more closely approximates that of Bill Clinton.
Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (Eds.) (1985). The NEO Personality Inventory manual. Odessa, FL: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Immelman, A. (1999, July). The political personality of Texas governor George W. Bush. Paper presented at the Twenty-Second Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Millon, T. (1996). Disorders of personality: DSM-IV and beyond (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.
Simonton, D. K. (1988). Presidential style: Biography, personality, and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 928-936.
A slightly edited version of this paper was published in Clio’s Psyche, (Journal of the Psychohistory Forum), vol. 6, no. 2 (September 1999), pp. 74-75.