Presidential Psychology

Posted by at 9:27AM

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign to me is observing the ambitions of the different candidates. Each of them, it seems, has this overbearing desire, an ambition, to be the President of the United States (POTUS). This sounds banal. What I mean, however, is the desire for the presidency seems to be rooted in personal psychology rather than position papers. It’s all about being the POTUS.
Like, for example, Mitt Romney. He can’t stop talking about his father, George Romney, a popular governor of Michigan who lost the 1968 Republican nomination to Tricky Dick himself, Richard Nixon. G. Romney was leading in polls until he doomed himself by opposing the Vietnam War. Would Romney be running if his father never made the attempt? It’s hard to say. How much of a father-son dynamic is there?

Then there’s the cases of John Edwards and John McCain, both of whom were bitten by the presidential bug in 2004 and 2000, respectively. And they can’t quite seem to let go. Edwards, for his part, caught the presidential bug after just one term in the Senate (but still more than Obama) and after finishing a surprising second and securing the Veep nomination, he’s been running ever since. He wants it so badly, in fact, that he abandoned his previous Southern centrist positions and spiraled to the left, taking substantive but liberal positions on poverty and health care and renouncing his Iraq vote. McCain ran as a maverick in 2000, and now wants the nomination so badly that he’s willing to run as the party insider (read: hack) and support an incredibly unpopular president on the war and immigration.
As for Hillary Rodham Clinton (she isn’t Madonna, and as a result shouldn’t be referred to as “Hillary”), well, there are a lot of allegations that she and Bill made a deal, much like that mystical deal between Blair & Brown. I doubt that either really happened, but it’s clear that Senator Clinton was running for president as soon as she decided to run for Senate, and has been positioning herself to do so ever since.
Obama and Giuliani seem to be the ones least burdened by personal psychologies. Giuliani has always been unsure of himself politically; he considered facing Hillary for the Senate seat in 2000 but declined. He didn’t enter the primaries until after Romney and McCain had hired most of the top staffers (of course, McCain ended up firing most of them). It’s hard to see Giuliani, the Mayor of 9-11, as not being politically opportunistic, however, Lastly, Obama. It’s his first campaign, and he certainly believes in his political rhetoric. And everyone around him has made him believe that he can run for and win the presidency. What if he doesn’t, this time around? He will almost certainly run again.
The recent political landscape is littered with people who can’t let go of a run for the presidency. Al Gore, for example, was brought up by his father, a powerful Senator, with the expectation that he would be president. He still can’t comprehensively rule out running again. Ronald Reagan lost the GOP nomination by a whisker in 1976 and ran again. There’s talk that Bill Frist will run for Governor of Tennessee to position himself for another run for the presidency later. John Kerry desperately wanted another shot but realized it was politically unfeasible. The Kennedys, of course, had a father who built a political machine for his children, originally for Jack, who died in WWII, and then for JFK and RFK.
And our current president? I think even more than Romney, there’s a lot of father-son dynamics. The prodigal son, who was a do-nothing until the age of 40, winning two terms to his father’s one?



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