The effects of presidential character on the success or failure of a presidency
The effects of presidential character on the success or failure of a presidency
  • Lim Seo Ryeong
  • 승인 2020.01.01 03:23
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 Since I was eight, my dream was to be a president. I was fascinated by seeing the president wearing a nice suit and deciding matters of great national concerns with people who only can be seen on a television screen. Still now, while watching the news every morning, I sometimes think, “If I were him, I would be making a different decision.” 


 Compared to other presidential systems of government, the Korean president has more authority because he is definitely influenced by Confucianism culture, which places value on hierarchy in which a lower-status person will usually defer to a higher-status person. Among the many elements of government, the president’s personal characteristics has an oversized role in the success or failure of a presidency. So I would like to show my own presidential character analysis of two polar opposites regarding Korean presidents, Park Chung-hee and Kim Young-sam, based on the book “The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House” by James David Barber, who has taught political science for more than two decades, so readers can make wiser choices when electing a president. According to Barber, not only the candidate’s election pledges but also the personal background and characteristics have a big impact on the success or failure of a presidency.


What is Presidential Character?
 Presidential character refers to a tool that helps predict a president’s direction of policy decision-making and government operation by analyzing his or her personal background. James Barber suggests two baselines to classify presidential character, their energy input and whether he or she enjoys the presidency. If the president pours a large amount of energy into their presidency, the person is classified as "Active" versus the opposite, which is "Passive." If the president enjoys the presidency, the person is considered as "Positive" versus the opposite which is "Negative." It creates four combinations which are Active-Positive, Active-Negative, Passive-Positive, and Passive-Negative. The essences of each model and representative presidents are the following:

•Active-Positive: High self-esteem, success-oriented, optimistic, joyful, orientation toward productiveness as a value -Barack Obama, John Kennedy

•Active-Negative: Power-seeking, aggressive, trying to escape from anxiety by working harder, pours distorted energy into the political system -Donald Trump, Lyndon Johnson

•Passive-Positive: Wanting to be loved, easily manipulated, dependence and fragility of their hopes, other-directed character -James Madison, Ronald Reagan

•Passive-Negative: Avoids conflict, rooted orientation toward doing dutiful service, lacks the experience and flexibility as a political leader -George Washington, Calvin Coolidge

Park Chung-hee’s Presidential Character: Active-Negative
 Active-Negative is a type of president that tries to escape from anxiety by working harder. Park Chung-hee suffered from poverty when young and because of malnutrition, he was short statured and was often looked down on by people. It made him admire Napoleon who was similar to him in appearance, yet still conquered the whole European continent. He often put himself in Napoleon’s shoes and acted like him. Finally, he went to Japanese Military Academy and started serving in the army. On May 16, 1961, he seized power in a coup, similar to what Napoleon had also done before. He became a dictator and ruled the country for 18 years. Since he was sick and tired of poverty, his top priority during his presidency was economic development. He implemented many big projects such as a five-year economic development plan called the New Community Movement, introduced currency reform, and his crowning accomplishment, the Miracle on the Han River, which promoted rapid economic development after the Korean War. As we can see from his achievements above, we can figure out he poured lots of energy into his presidency. On the other hand, he was always worried about being impeached or assassinated by someone who wanted to seize power in a coup as he had done, so he was unable to enjoy his presidency.

Kim Young-sam’s Presidential Character: Passive-Positive
 Passive-Positive is wanting to be loved. They are always craving for love and public popularity. He grew up in a wealthy family. As most wealthy parents do, his parents had high expectations for him. So economic development was not a priority during his presidential tenure. Instead, there was nothing more important than building a democratic country. He was born during the climax of the Japanese colonial era. He was very hostile against the Japanese and pro-Japan Park Chung-hee, so he often created conflicts with the Japanese. This historical background absolutely motivated him, but another critical element that inspired him was his concern for the public’s evaluation of him. He desired to obtain a high-standing reputation from the people, such as when he struggled to be praised by his parents during his youth. His personal background led him to the founding of a democratic country; however, due to the over enthusiasm in achieving that goal, his policies often lacked consistency. In other words, he was too concerned about his reputation and was easily manipulated by public opinion that determined the direction of government operation in many cases. As a result, he drove Korea into the worst economic crisis in its history. Given the fact that he didn’t pour as much energy as Park Chung-hee did, he can be classified as a passive president. However, the love people gave him made him enjoy his presidency.

 Of course, it is almost impossible to classify people into four types. However, by looking at presidential character we can generally predict how they will react after being elected and the direction of government policy. Since a president’s personal background and characteristics definitely influence the success or failure of a presidency as Barber said, “Since we have only one president at a time, we can never prove this by comparison, but even the most superficial speculation confirms the commonsense view that the man himself weighs heavily among other historical factors." With mentioned reasons, I highly recommend people to thoroughly examine it during upcoming election campaigns.

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