Some of the material below appeared in the cover article of the Feb. 2001 Enneagram Monthly.
George W. Bush - hiding
in plain sight.
"Bush detests being challenged, whether by reporters or political leaders. He is unyielding in his convictions, to the exclusion of all else. ... Ask his critics to explain how Bush operates, and the phrase they come up with most often is 'my way or the highway,'"
- Anne Kornblut, Boston Globe, May 4, 2003.
"There is a sly, watchful quality in Eights with a Nine wing - as if they are daring others to underestimate them. ... They can seen friendly and agreeable, while secretly sizing people up and assessing their character."
- Don Riso and Russ Hudson, Personality Types
During the year 2000 campaign, Al Gore had huge advantages over Bush: greater experience and intelligence, a spotless, scandal-free personal record, a good economy, and voters who agreed with Democrats on the issues they said mattered most. Past candidates with these advantages won by landslide margins, so why didn't Gore? I believe the answer lies in the psychology of the candidates:
1. Hiding in plain sight.
Bush has an unusual ability to hide in plain sight - to give a widespread impression that he is compassionate and interested in unity, while openly pushing policies that are in fact quite divisive. For example, he touts his "compassionate conservatism" and role as a "uniter", while simultaneously pushing a wide range of policies that have deeply polarized the electorate. Strangely enough, more of the public seems aware of the happy slogans, than of their ultimate effects.
It is paradoxical that Bush, whom many people judged at first to be dumb but harmless, has become one of the most notorious presidents in modern memory, easily the most divisive figure since Nixon. Enneagrammers have an unusally wide range of "diagnoses" of Bush - including types 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9. However, I've written that Bush's behavior could be best explained as an 8w9 who shows his 9 wing publicly, but reverts to an aggressive 8 stance in his final decisions. He may also have acquired a 6-ish influence from his father, and from the Republican Party's cultural aura.
Bush's affable and likeable, albeit confused, public personna may be due to his 9 wing, while his unilateralist final decisions, and black-and-white worldview, show the dominant type 8 stance. This combination of psychological motives may explain why Bush has been so widely underestimated by friends and foes alike, and how he can pursue such confrontational policies while remaining personally popular. I quoted one line from Riso's Personality Types at the top of this page. Here is another interesting quote about the 8w9 personality:
"... unhealthy Eights with a Nine-wing can be destructive without remorse, combining ruthlessness with indifference. They can get into a strangely dissociated frame of mind, acting in a depersonalized way, as if they were some sort of cosmic force which swatted people aside, crushing them without personal feelings entering the picture." - Don Riso and Russ Hudson, Personality Types revised edition, 1996.
It seems to me that Bush's war with Iraq, and the way he has gone about it, are consistent with the above quote. Bush's psychological profile suggests that it is easy, but dangerous, to underestimate him. Here are some other reasons not to underestimate Bush:
2. George W. Bush is not as dumb as he looks:
As a Democrat, I'd love to believe George W. is an imbecile. His command of the spoken word is horrible, and language disabilities may run in his family (his father's syntax is often odd, and his brother Neil is dyslexic). However, when students dug up his old SAT scores, they got a surprise. His score (1206) was well above the national average, putting him in the 86-88% percentile range. Not a genius, but higher than expected. And the SAT doesn't measure people skills, street smarts, and gut instincts, arguably Bush's strongest skills, and those most needed for political success. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (and a moderate Democrat) notes:
"Contrary to the critics' caricatures, Mr. Bush is intelligent, with an awesome memory, great management skill and a tremendous emotional I.Q. But he is also one of the least intellectually curious people I've ever interviewed, one of the least inclined to play with an idea and hold it to the light."
3. George W. Bush is not as nice as he looks.
Recently, a writer named Mark Crispin Miller
set out to write a humorous book about Bush's verbal malaproprisms.
However, his analysis of Bush's speeches revealed something very serious:
"(George W.) Bush's boiling anger is--as of this writing--still known only to insiders and to the readers of his best biographies." - Mark Crispin Miller, The Bush Dyslexicon, p. 50.
"Bush is almost always clear when he's speaking cruelly. For example, when the subject is the punitive infliction of great pain, there is no problem with his syntax, grammar, or vocabulary, even if he happens to be lying. ... On the other hand, our president is extraordinarily tongue-tied when he's trying, off the cuff, to sound a note of idealism, magnanimity or -- especially -- compassion." -Miller, p. 52-53
"... our president is not an imbecile but an operator just as canny as he is hard-hearted -- which is to say that he's extraordinarily shrewd. To smirk at his alleged stupidity is, therefore, not just to miss the point, but to do this unelected president a giant favor since, as Shakespeare's Prince Hal reminds us--and as Bush himself has often said--it suits a politician to have everybody thinking he's a dunce, especially if he wants to do things his way." - Miller, p. 2-3.
Anne Kornblut of the Boston Globe has made
"...Bush's ire is more than an interesting impulse. It reflects a driving force behind his presidency. Bush detests being challenged, whether by reporters or political leaders. He is unyielding in his convictions, to the exclusion of all else. He is principled. But he is also stubborn, a trait that has become a guiding force of his governing style, a management tool, and perhaps even a new chapter in American history." - Boston Globe, May 4, 2003
"Ask his critics to explain how Bush operates, and the phrase they come up with most often is 'my way or the highway,'" - ibid.
4. Shows 9 wing in public; final decisions reflect 8 style
George W. Bush's outward behavior often looks quite 9-ish, and perhaps also 2-ish. He relaxes and disarms others with an easy-going, jocular demeanor, and frequently looks a little goofy or confused. His year 2000 campaign slogans reflected many values of average 9s (e.g. "uniter, not a divider"), and also 2s (“compassionate”). But underneath these happy slogans was an explosive temper that he didn’t learn to control until age 40, and an inherently divisive agenda that included massive tax cuts for the wealthy, drilling for oil in Alaska, and a confrontational approach to almost all international affairs, including of course the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush's final decisions show a great zeal for acting alone in the world, breaking established rules, punishing enemies, and defying foes and allies alike.
Despite Bush’s inclusive-sounding slogans, unification and compassion are rarely his first instincts. His major decisions as president are almost completely unilateralist: he has dissolved treaties with Europe and Russia, sneered at the International Criminal Court, mocked the United Nations as "irrelevant", and so on. And I haven't even gotten to the war Iraq yet. Even if history proves George W. to have made some correct decisions, his high-handed style has made it harder for Americans to obtain needed cooperation from other countries.
It is often argued that Bush’s behavior is merely a reaxtion to 9/11, or is hard-line advisors. But well-informed editorials, such as this fascinating one written 6 months before 9/11, are eerily consistent with what we know about Bush today, suggesting that 9/11 did not change Bush's personality but merely made it more globally known. And although Bush does have many hard-line advisors, he also has moderate ones, and in fact has many of the same advisors as his father, yet makes vastly different decisions.
Making Reagan seem moderate?
As an 8 with a considerable 9 wing, Bush has many similarities with Ronald Reagan, a 9 with an 8 wing. Both presented a sunny face to the public, while fighting enemies they labeled "evil". But while Reagan was tough on the Soviets, he was largely disengaged from almost everything else, particularly domestic policy where he famously napped or doodled during cabinet meetings. In contrast, Bush eagerly pushes a wide range of domestic issues that Reagan never dared touch. While Reagan hated to fire staff members, Bush sacked his entire economic team in Nov. 2002 and has never looked back. Whereas Reagan was a closet moderate (just look at his Supreme court nominees), George W. Bush is much more of a hardliner, and much less likely to compromise with his opposition. Not only has Bush been busy pushing far beyond what Reagan did, he is also likely to repeal some of Reagan's more moderate policies (e.g. the minimum corporate tax, which Reagan advocated after finding that some large corporations pay almost zero tax).
Opportunism is a crucial, often overlooked key to Bush's success. When his earlier business ventures failed, other people lost money, not him. When he succeeded, he made hefty profits. In 1988, he invested $606,000 of other people's money into the Texas Ranger's baseball team, then sold his share later at a $14.9 million profit to himself. This was not an accident, and is part of a lifelong pattern of shrewdly using circumstance to his advantage.
In 1994, George W. beat the incumbent Texas governor Ann Richards and became the only two-term governor in Texas history. Again, his opponents underestimated him and lost. The fact that the Texas governorship is a constitutionally weak office was often used to criticize George W. as weak. But actually this underscores his proactive side - he cajoled and persuaded other politicians personally (most notably Bob Bullock), without relying on institutionalized levers of power that a more compliant type would prefer.
In academics, sports, and business, George W. has been mediocre compared to his accomplished father. But George W. is more street smart, better able at sizing up others and using situations to his own advantage, and quicker to confront people he doesn't like. Bush's father was often denigrated as a "wimp" - for all his faults, the son doesn't seem to have that one.
6. What's next?
In the Feb. 2001 Enneagram Monthly I predicted George W. Bush would have an aggressive presidency that would represent "an ideological shift in the country, but also risks carrying this shift too far." My view was controversial at the time, but Bush's subsequent behavior has confirmed my early suspicions even more than I'd imagined.
My original article also pointed to a historical pattern: Every 20th century American president who was an 8, or had an 8 wing, served more than 4 years in office. This pattern suggests that Bush in 2000 was harder to beat than most Democrats realized, and will be formidable in 2004 as well. Whether you love or hate Bush, past history suggests that we're likely to see even more of him unless the Democrats can pull off something extraordinary in the 2004 election. Bush's gut inclinations have already slowly but inexorably changed the shape of America, of the world, and of America's place in the world, for better or worse.
Bush and Gore are both contradictory people. George W. Bush's aggressive actions contradict the peaceful self-image he presented of himself during his electoral campaign. Al Gore is also a contradictory person, but his contradictions may be more internal.
Al Gore is usually viewed as an Enneagram 1 because of his stiff posture and obsession with details, but having a 1 wing myself, I had to question this. As a Democrat, I agree with many of Gore's positions, but was bothered by his tendency to buckle under political pressure (1s are more known for fanatical stubbornness). I also had other doubts: where was his righteous anger? Why was he so uncomfortable expressing strong viewpoints? (average political 1s, once they form their opinions, are more often vocal to a fault, and quite comfortable with strong viewpoints). I eventually came to believe Gore is a 6 who was influenced by a type 1 father, and also expressing some of the less healthy qualities of his personality.
1. Gore's stiff posture
There is no denying that Gore looks comically stiff. Many political 1s throughout history were a little stiff, especially those with 9 wings. Woodrow Wilson and George Washington were two historical examples of 1w9s. These men had wooden demeanors, like Gore, but were also incredibly resolute and tough-minded, sticking to their principles under incredible pressure. In contrast, Gore has often faded away under assault, even when he actually is right. It seems that Gore wanted to be liked more than he wanted to take a tough stance, which is the opposite of the 1's tendency.
2. Gore's flexible thinking
1 politicians are often known for a relentless, righteous sense of purpose. Woodrow Wilson, George Washington, Hillary Clinton, and Ralph Nader all show this quality in abundance, sometimes to their own detriment. However, Gore's past history shows a lot more wavering than is typical for 1s, on issues like gun control, abortion, and even his signature issue, the environment. After writing a book that passionately urged environmental reform, Gore seemed to retreat from his advocacy, occasionally relaxing pollution controls when it was politically expedient. Gore did not push Clinton to raise auto fuel efficiency standards, something even the environmentally confused Ronald Reagan did. It is astounding that the much more astute Gore missed the opportunity of a lifetime to do the same. Given Gore's lifelong interest in these issues, his compromises are puzzling, all the more so if you think Gore is a 1. Because of these compromises, environmental groups were actually rather slow to endorse Gore in 2000, even though his opponent was arguably an impending environmental disaster.
Gore isn't paranoid, but has a sharp eye for security issues, crises, and danger, reflected in his most passionate interests in Congress: arms control, the environment, and global warming. When campaigning, Gore stridently warned America of the dangers of Bush's policies (tax cuts, Alaskan oil drilling, risking Social Security, etc.) but was more vague when describing the benefits of a Gore presidency ("lock boxes" for everyone?). Like many 6s, Gore had a hard time articulating his message unless he was defending or attacking something outside himself. His slogan championing the "people vs. the powerful" is yet another example of this trait.
4. Where's the righteous indignation?
Gore is easily tagged an exaggerator, normally a difficult label to attach to average 1s, who fight back hard when criticized. If you've ever argued with an average entrenched 1, you know how futile it can be to prove him/her wrong, whereas even Gore's supporters believe he bends the truth. Other 1s like Hillary Clinton and Ralph Nader are far more provocative than Al Gore, but neither has been labeled a habitual exaggerator, despite considerable effort by their enemies.
Although Gore has frequently been caught in mild exaggerations, I would argue it is not the exaggerations (which all politicians make) but Gore's response to criticism that is crucial. Often when attacked, Gore mysteriously fails to defend or clarify himself, lending weight to critics who are often distorting the truth much more than Gore himself. For example, Gore famously said he took the initiative drafting legislation that "created the internet". Gore did in fact sponsor legislation that made it legal to conduct business over the web, directly sparking the explosive growth of the internet in the years that followed. Gore didn't invent the internet, but he did help make the internet what it is today. That truly is revolutionary, yet Gore never bothered to remind everyone of this. It seems to me that even one outraged statement in his own defense would have saved his reputation, but without it, Gore's proud achievement turned into a joke for his enemies to use against him.
5. Both phobic and counterphobic traits
Remember the three presidential debates? Gore was oddly meek in the first debate, strangely pugnacious in the second, and somewhere in the middle for the third. While average 1s can be a bit stubborn and slow to adapt to outside feedback, Gore's behavior could be consistent with an oscillation between phobic and counterphobic dcbate styles. Gore is also known to read almost everything the media says about him, and may have over-reacted to public opinion. This suggests an insecurity about what others think about him, a bigger issue for average 6s than average 1s.
6. Gore's father may have been a 1.
Gore's father was Senator Al Gore Sr., a stern, moralizing person whom Lyndon Johnson criticized for being "self-righteous". According to biographies of the son, the father set relentlessly high standards for both himself and his son. In 1970, the father's high principles cost him his job as Senator, and many biographers believe he then transferred his frustrated political goals to his son. This may explain why Gore does often talk about 1-ish beliefs, without being a 1 himself, and why Gore keeps running for president when his relatively narrow range of interests is not suited to the job. It is notable that Gore's father had a life-long dream of becoming vice president. The son may have been the vehicle for his father's ambitions.
So, did Gore's personality cause him to lose the election? Probably not by itself. Most personality types are represented among the U.S. presidents, and any healthy type can be a good leader. However, for all his intelligence, Gore lost mainly because voters were not sure what he stood for. Gore's personality may have made it hard for him to be stubbornly strong-minded, whereas George W. Bush, with his black-and-white view of the world, did not face this particular obstacle. For all his inexperience and fuzzy intellect, George W. Bush excited Republicans much more than Gore animated Democrats. I believe these apparent paradoxes are due to the personalities of the two candidates. Without taking psychology into account, it is otherwise very difficult to explain why the year 2000 election was as close as it was, given Gore's otherwise massive advantages.