“The presidency is no place for amateurs.”
Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power
Behind all the shouts and chants in protest rallies and demos, behind all the letters sent to the Times and other newspapers, and behind all the calls made to TV and radio programs—all of which uniformly demand that President Aquino resign/vacate/disappear from Malacañang, there is fundamentally a yearning of many Filipinos to understand the fateful connection between personality and performance in the Philippine presidency.
Anger and anxieties mount by the day, as Malacañang has doggedly proclaimed a policy of “moving on” beyond the Mamasapano tragedy, in spite of so many killed. Senate President Franklin Drilon has volunteered to serve as bullhorn for “move on” in repayment for all the pork and DAP showered on him.
Ever since the details of Father Jaime Bulatao’s psychological evaluation report on the young Noynoy Aquino were disclosed and went viral, rumors have flown far and wide that PNoy is a misfit as chief of state and commander in chief, and that he panics and freezes in the face of crisis.
Character and the presidency
Effective management of the executive branch is a key feature of a successful presidency. In the US, historians and political scientists have striven for years to come up with criteria for evaluating and assessing presidents.
Some scholars have directed their attention to presidential character and personality as a factor for success or failure in office. They have developed classification schemes of presidential personalities.
The most famous of these schemes was developed by James David Barber. He published his theories and findings in a book, The Presidential character (Prentice Hall, 1992).
In his book, Barber identified broad character patterns that will predict general patterns of conduct in office.
Central to his analysis are three personal characteristics – character, world view and style. Together these elements determine the likelihood of presidential success.
He classifies presidents on two dimensions:
1.First, their energy level (wherein they are either passive or active); presidents may be active or passive in terms of the effort they invest in their jobs.
2.Second, their orientation toward life (wherein they are either positive or negative in their outlook in life).
The four types
Barber’s study yielded four types of president in his typology of character and the presidency:
1. Active-positive – Active-positive presidents exhibit personal growth and adaptability; they enjoy their work and find it a challenge to use power productively as a means to pursue goals beneficial to others. Their success rests on a fundamental sense of self-confidence expressed in goal-oriented behavior.
Yet they are willing to change or abandon them rather than suffer a costly political defeat.
The most successful US presidents are active positive types, according to Barber. They include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy. George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
2. Active-negative – Active-negative presidents also invest a great deal of energy in being president, but unlike their active-positive counterparts, they do not appear to derive enjoyment from serving in office. Rather than exercising political power for the benefit of the citizenry, active-negative presidents seem to seek power for its own sake, exhibiting compulsiveness as if they are driven to pursue a political career instead of doing it for pleasure. This behavior arises from a poor self-image and lack of self-confidence.
Among the examples are Herbert Hoover, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
3. Passive- positive – Passive-positive presidents are not in politics to seek power either for the betterment of the people or to compensate for their own sense of inadequacy. They choose politics because they genuinely enjoy people and want to help them by doing small favors, in order to feel wanted and loved. Passive-positive presidents have low self-esteem, combined with a superficial optimism about life; they tend to let others set goals for them and find it difficult to make decisions.
The danger they pose is one of drift, leaving the affairs of state undirected.
Among US presidents, Barber identifies Taft, Harding and Ronald Reagan as passive-positive presidents.
4.Passive-negative – passive-negative presidents combine two characteristics that one would not expect to find in the person who attains the nation’s highest office. These are: an unwillingness to invest much energy in the office, and a lack of pleasure in serving.
Such people pursue public service because they believe it is something they ought to do. They have a fundamental sense of uselessness and compensate for it by dutifully agreeing to work on behalf of their fellow citizens.
Barber classifies Calvin Coolidge and Dwight David Eisenhower as passive-negative presidents.
In addition to the above factors, Barber also examined two other personal factors that influence presidential behavior, but play a smaller role in his analysis than character. These are: world view, which means a president’s politically relevant beliefs. The second is personal style – “the habitual way of performing three political roles: rhetoric, personal relation and homework.”
Aquino: a passive-negative president
Barber appears to posit the active-positive type as the ideal personality for the tasks and challenges of the presidency.
Some critics said that he appeared to favor the heroic model of presidential leadership, which assigns personal responsibility for solving national problems.
But then active-positives are also the type who would have a tendency to be dictatorial.
Looking at President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd, he appears to be tailor-made as a passive-negative president.
He was shoe-horned into running for president without really planning to. He did it more out of obligation to his parents’ memory, and a desire to exact revenge, than out of a genuine desire to lead the nation and serve the people.
He is passive in the sense that he has not invested much effort and energy in being president. He gave his name to the word “noynoying,” which literally means lazing away. At critical times during his presidency, when the president was most called upon to lead, he has disappeared from view for long stretches.
He takes a long time in making major decisions.
The tempest now raging over his presidency is the result of his inability to provide leadership in a time of great national challenge. As in the Yolanda disaster in East Visayas, so in Mamasapano, he has been disengaged and wanting of empathy for victims and their families.
Richard Neustadt, the greatest theorist of the modern presidency, memorably declared: “the presidency is no place for amateurs.”
Aquino, we must all acknowledge, is an amateur. He simply does not possess the personal qualities and skills to serve the presidency with distinction.
He does not have it in him to be a serious leader of 100 million people.