Features - March 22, 2000
Psychology and the White House
Greenstein examines presidential leadership style
by Ann Waldron
The Watergate scandal was erupting when Fred Greenstein began his first semester as a politics professor in the Woodrow Wilson School. An expert on politics and personality, Greenstein was fascinated by what was happening to President Richard Nixon that fall of 1973. In his view, Nixon had performed brilliantly his first term; now he was sinking.
Inspired, Greenstein decided to turn his full scholarly attention to the institution of the presidency of the United States. "Political science was getting more statistical, and I could study the presidents to find out what makes people in government tick," he said. "Presidents were bigger than life. They were something I could dig into."
For 27 years he worked like an anthropologist, studying U.S. presidents instead of primitive tribes. His hard-won knowledge has made him a recognized authority on the presidency, not only well known among scholars but also frequently quoted in the news media.
Now Greenstein's work has culminated in a soon-to-be published book, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton (The Free Press, 2000). The book analyzes those 11 presidents, briefly describing each one's background, political style, and presidential conduct. Greenstein then rates the performance of each in six categories: public communication, organizational capacity, political skill, vision of public policy, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. By this last quality, Greenstein explains, he means the ability to "manage one's emotions and turn them to constructive purposes, rather than being dominated by them." According to Greenstein, Nixon, the president who got him started on this quarter-century-long study, was a man who could not manage his emotions, while presidents such as Truman, Eisenhower, and Ford were free of emotional perturbations that would have interfered with their leadership.
"I wanted to judge the means presidents have used, not the ends they hoped to achieve," Greenstein said. "The book is about how they handled the helm, not where they were piloting the ship to."
He began his intensive study of the presidents with Nixon, but went back to Franklin Roosevelt because of his childhood fascination with FDR, who he described as "a very important figure in our household." Continuing chronologically, he looked closely at Harry Truman and then came to Dwight Eisenhower-and there had to stop and correct the record. "I realized what I had taught students about Eisenhower was untrue," he said. "Hitherto unpublished papers in the Eisenhower Library showed that Eisenhower was not at all the passive president that everyone had assumed. He was indeed quite active."
Greenstein's revisionist book about Eisenhower, The Hidden Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (Johns Hopkins, 1994), came out in 1982 and changed the way historians viewed Eisenhower.
Only after this pause to reexamine Eisenhower did Greenstein return to his study of all the presidents. He took a decade to write The Presidential Difference. "It took years before the chapters began to jell," he said. "When I got further into it, I went back over the early chapters, so they would all be parallel. I wanted to raise the argument about presidents to a higher, more explicit level."
Greenstein, who is on leave this year before a final year of teaching, plans to retire in 2001. He hopes that the book, a legacy of his years at Princeton, will encourage people to judge political candidates by objective standards and to think of the candidates' leadership potential.
Greenstein grew up in the New York City suburbs, consumed with an interest in politics and journalism. He went to Antioch College and enrolled in its five-year work-study program, where he alternately studied on campus for three months and worked at newspaper and public relations jobs for three months. During his freshman year in the fall of 1948, he was a copy boy at the Chicago Sun-Times. "It was the paper that supported Truman, and we had lots of copies of the famous Chicago Tribune front page with the banner headline, 'Dewey Defeats Truman,' " he recalled.
His eventual entry into academia, he said, was quite accidental. "I had been in the service, and I had access to the Korean GI Bill," he said. "Small-town papers had lost their glamour, and I didn't want to be a copy boy on a big-city newspaper. I was more interested in the irrational parts of political life: What could happen to an industrial country like Germany that would turn its leaders into war criminals? How could we regard Russia as our ally during the war and our nemesis after the war?"
As an undergraduate Greenstein had read books by Yale professor Harold Lasswell that explored the links between the political and the psychoanalytical. Intrigued by Lasswell's theories, he applied to and was accepted by Yale as a graduate student.
In Lasswell's seminar, Greenstein stumbled on a study of grade-school children and their perception of politics. "How much did they know about politics?" he said. "And when did they learn it? It seemed to me that a study of children and politics would be a simple way of getting at the ins and outs of how politics relates to psychology. Do children always reflect the views of their parents? When do they stop and acquire their own ideas? Do children from more educated homes know more about politics than children from poorer homes? Are boys and girls different in the way they regard politics?"
Greenstein had found his dissertation topic. He visited New Haven schools and asked children to fill out a questionnaire. He discovered that children's views of politics all revolved around the president of the United States, although their understanding might be limited to, "He puts the money in the banks and Daddy gets paid." "By the fourth grade they all knew who was president," said Greenstein, adding that after Watergate, children had less positive views of the president.
Greenstein's dissertation became a book, published by Yale University Press in 1965. He later did a study of children in England, the U.S., and France asking them what would happen in certain situations-for instance, what they thought would happen if the Queen, the President, or DeGaulle were stopped for speeding. "Children in England thought the policeman would bow and scrape when he found out he had stopped the Queen," Greenstein said. "American children thought the policeman would be less deferential. The French children thought the gendarme would berate DeGaulle."
After he finished his Ph.D. at Yale, Greenstein moved on from studies of children, but he still wanted to explore the interaction of psychology and politics. He spent a year studying at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute before turning to academia, teaching government at Wesleyan University. He made his mark with the book Personality and Politics: Problems of Evidence, Inference, and Conceptualization, which appeared in 1969. "It's very dry and learned," he said. "It was an attempt to show students of politics how to draw on the study of personality."
Greenstein's work on psychology-he was a founding member of the International Society for the Study of Psychology and Politics in 1975-was immensely useful in his study of the presidents, giving him perspective and objectivity. Prepublication readers of The Presidential Difference have remarked that it is impossible to tell who the author personally favored.
When asked which president he likes best, Greenstein replies that he likes them all. "Some of them have had a sense of direction, and others haven't," he said. At various times Greenstein has said what a towering figure Roosevelt was in his childhood, and he admits that even over the years, Roosevelt has remained "a true giant." Greenstein was also fascinated with Nixon-that's clear-particularly with the way he opened up relations to China and managed other colossal achievements, and then was undone by a political scandal that could have been prevented.
And at first Greenstein was so taken with Clinton that he maneuvered to get a copy of a C-Span tape of him talking to an African-American church in Michigan. "I thought he was eloquent and full of political electricity, with all the strong points of FDR, Kennedy, and Johnson," Greenstein said. "It turned out he had all the weaknesses-a combination of Masters and Johnson and Anna Karenina."
Ann Waldron is a freelance writer who lives in Princeton.
Service Without Borders
Alumni work around the world to relieve suffering
by Rob Garver
The morning of his first Christmas in Mauritania, Joseph Cumming '82 woke in a state of elation. He was fulfilling his long-held goal of delivering humanitarian relief to the poor in Africa, and just hours before, he and his companions-many of them fellow Princetonians-had celebrated a midnight Christmas service in their new home.
A knock on the door that morning did nothing to change his mood. A messenger from the local prefect had arrived, asking Cumming if his group, Doulos Community, would loan the prefect an automobile to transport a sick person to a distant hospital. It seemed almost a sign that they were needed in the west African city of Tijikja. Cumming went along with the messenger, to tell the prefect in person that he was welcome to use one of their vehicles.
"By the way," he said to the prefect, after they had made the arrangements, "I thought you might be interested to know that today is one of the most important Christian feast days of the year."
The prefect, a Muslim like the vast majority of his countrymen, looked blankly at Cumming and said, "That's nice. Now, can you give us some fuel?"
Cumming, whose Christian faith had led him to do relief work, found the moment more than unsettling. "It was very painful for me," he recalls in a pleasantly earnest voice. "It was December 25th and nobody in the entire city was aware that it was any different from the 24th or the 26th. It wasn't that they were ignoring it. They just didn't know anything about Christmas."
In many different forms and in many different countries, Princetonians who have dedicated all or part of their lives to relieving suffering among the poor of the world report similar eye-opening incidents, moments when idealism and naiveté butt up against hard reality.
For some, like Cumming, it comes in small ways, when they realize that they have left their own culture so far behind that basic assumptions about what is desirable, what is good, and even what is moral, are no longer shared by those around them.
For others it is more harsh. It comes the first time they confront a corrupt government that barters away the relief of its own people, trading suffering for political or economic gain. Or it happens with their first attempt to bargain with an opportunistic provider of food or supplies.
For those who fight past the disillusionment that relief work can engender, the reward is an exhilaration, tempered by an understanding of the heights-and the depths-that human behavior is capable of reaching.
It takes a special type of person to succeed in relief work, one who is not only idealistic and generous, but also practical, committed, and energetic. George Elsey '39, who spent 20 years working for the Red Cross-12 of those as its president-and sent countless people on overseas assignments, describes his best workers as "the kind of people who would respond to their own communities. The sort of people who join the volunteer fire department, or even give a beginners' swimming class-people with organizational ability.
"When they went on overseas operations, they would typically find a lot of local people milling around, not knowing quite what to do. We needed people who could get supplies moving-who could get things off trucks and then get them to the places where they needed to be."
Amanda High '88 knows about organizing. She is often among the first relief workers to reach areas of famine or disaster. Currently working in Africa for the Red Cross, High admits that battling with avaricious officials or profiteering suppliers is a mental and emotional drain. But the reward, she reminds herself, is a front-row seat for some of the most inspiring examples of human courage.
"Although relief workers often appear to be somehow center stage in the media portrayals of humanitarian interventions," she writes via e-mail from Kenya, "it is not at all the case. What's happening is that the affected population is regrouping-sometimes with single-mindedness, sometimes apparently unconsciously. The lives of the beneficiaries, though in flux and distressed, are ongoing and unfolding. The day-to-day activities of those people, as they reorient themselves to a new environment, be it a refugee camp, or a damaged home, or a changed conflict scenario, are center stage. The heroic efforts of individuals, and communities as a whole, to reestablish a sense of normalcy is what we 'humanitarians' watch . . . and it most certainly is not the backdrop. It's the main feature."
High's first experience overseas was partially funded by Princeton. A grant from the university helped her spend part of the summer following her sophomore year in Sierra Leone, in West Africa. With a group of workers, she helped to clear arable land for a village that would use the proceeds from its cultivation to fund a clinic.
That summer's work confirmed High's desire to do relief work, and when she graduated in 1988, she started looking for an organization that would accept her. "It is very hard to get overseas for the first time," she says. Much more so, she adds, for a middle-class, female Ivy Leaguer. "They were worried that I wouldn't be able to hack it," she says.
High worked in a bar for months while looking for her first job. She had earned a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language while at Princeton, and applied to a Boston-based organization that recruited teachers. An employee of the organization told her about a school in Pakistan that would be interested in her. The school itself wasn't a participant in the placement agency's program, the woman told her, but it was run by a friend of hers and was in need of another teacher.
High had studied religion while at Princeton, with a concentration on Islam, and was intrigued by the possibility of going to a Muslim country. She was also anxious to get overseas and begin working, so she took the job.
High arrived in the city of Lahore to find herself working in a highly evangelical mission school, where she was clearly unwelcome. She was locked in her room at night ("for my own protection," she says wryly) and was never allowed to be by herself with the students because the administrators worried that "I would poison their minds" with stories of freedom and license in America. "I later decided that they had wanted me there because I was a woman and because I had the Princeton degree," High says. "It would look good when they were writing grant applications."
Unable to boil her own water or prepare her own meals, High found herself becoming sick, and when appeals to her employers/captors went unheard, she began to feel desperate. One evening, shivering with fever, she decided to leave. She crawled out the window of her room, stole her own passport back from the school's offices, and escaped-literally over the wall-from the mission.
In her pocket was the name and address of the brother of a former coworker at the bar. She got herself on a plane to Islamabad and showed up on his doorstep. He was in Pakistan working for a program supported by the U.S. State Department, resettling political refugees to the U.S.
More formal roads
When she recovered, High found that not only had she escaped a bad job, she had found a good one. She spent two and a half years working in the resettlement program in Pakistan before returning for a short stint at the United Nations. She then worked for the same program in Khartoum, returning to the U.S. again to pursue a master's degree at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. When she completed her degree in 1995, she joined the Red Cross, and has worked along the disputed border region between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and throughout central Africa.
Today she works as regional relief delegate attached to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. From Nairobi, Kenya, she coordinates responses and organizes relief for a large segment of eastern and central Africa.
Across the continent from High, Joseph Cumming-who rebounded from his initial culture shock and has lived in Mauritania most of the past 17 years-and Doulos Community operate a maternal and child health care center in the city of Nouakchott. The Doulos operation in Nouakchott, which is managed by Karen Boyle '85, provides health care services to about 20,000 people, Cumming estimates. The group also runs rural development centers that focus on agricultural programs, microcredit, women's cooperatives, and refugee resettlement.
Doulos Community began at Princeton, when a group of students involved in the Alpha-Omega Christian Fellowship, headed by then-campus minister Ken Jasko '78, came together and decided to make a contribution to the poor of the world. Other Princetonians involved in the founding of the program were Chris Falter '83, Linda Francese Falter '84, Jerry Roth, formerly of the Princeton geology department, and Steve Wilson, a graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton.
The name of the group has its origin in the Greek word for servant, and alludes to a passage in St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians that encourages believers to renounce a life of privilege and comfort and to live with and serve the poor. But despite its Christian origins, the group does not proselytize-mainly because the Islamic Mauritanian government would never allow it.
Cumming and his companions content themselves with portraying a different kind of Christianity from that which Islamic nations have typically experienced. "What have Muslims traditionally experienced at the hands of Christianity? Militarism, license, and oppression," he answers his own question. "We hope that through what we do, they will see a kinder face of Christianity."
Moonlighting and making a difference
Not all Princetonians who do relief work live overseas year-round. Some are able to balance a relatively normal life at home with their time abroad.
Katherine Hinckley '95 helped build a school in Thailand when she was a teenager, and the experience sent her to Princeton with twin urges: to travel further and to study other cultures. She found a way to satisfy both in the religion department, which helped her study abroad as she progressed toward her degree. As the years went on, though, simply studying other people came to seem less satisfying. She wanted a way to connect with them.
"I craved a hands-on skill," she says. That led her to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently in her second year. She and her husband, McKay Jenkins *96, have carved time out of her medical school schedule and his duties as a professor of journalism at the University of Delaware to participate in overseas relief programs. Last summer, the pair spent several weeks with Habitat for Humanity, building homes in a Nicaraguan village.
When they married, Jenkins and Hinckley promised each other that they would "do this kind of thing often," says Jenkins. "That's not to say we won't go to Paris if the opportunity arises," he adds. But the experience of building homes with the poor of Nicaragua for weeks at a time was more rewarding than any package tour. "It was enriching and meaningful," he says. "By doing something like that you make a much richer and deeper connection to the people than you can by walking into town, having a meal, and leaving on the bus."
It was a bus, in fact, that took them from San Juan in Costa Rica, where they began their journey, to Managua. "There are two kinds of buses in Nicaragua," Jenkins says, "the kind with windows that open and the kind that have air conditioning." At first, they were relieved to see that they were getting on a more modern bus-the kind with air conditioning. Until they discovered that the air conditioning didn't work, and then found that the windows were sealed shut. "It was like spending 10 hours in a sauna," he says.
Jenkins, a professional journalist, has an eye for the small details that illustrate the larger picture of life in the Nicaraguan countryside. Walk past any American construction site, he says, and look on the ground. All around you'll see bent nails, discarded by the builders who simply reached into their bulging tool belts for cheap replacements. "There are no bent nails on the ground in Nicaragua," he says. "If a carpenter bends one, he picks it up, straightens it out and uses it again."
And workers' tool belts do not bulge. When he needed to cut the wires holding a pallet of cement bags together, Jenkins pulled out his Leatherman-an all-purpose pocket tool available in any American hardware store-and used the wire cutter. "The Nicaraguan builders fell over themselves asking me to give it to them," Jenkins remembers. In a town where the only way to transport 100-pound bags of cement was for workers to carry them on their backs, the wire cutter in his $30 glorified pocket knife was the most modern tool around.
Next year, Jenkins and Hinckley are taking an intensive month-long course taught by the Center for International Health and Cooperation. The 12-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week program will simulate a humanitarian crisis, from which the students will learn methods of dealing with government and military leaders, coping with corrupt officials, and other skills necessary in the world of relief work.
While Hinckley's skills as a physician will obviously be in demand among relief agencies, Jenkins sees his role as that of the journalist: "What I can contribute, hopefully, will be as a writer," he says. With several book proposals in the works that blend his interests in environmental issues and relief work, Jenkins is clear in his purpose. "I'm going into this as both a writer and a worker."
On the front lines
Another Princetonian who tries to balance a life in the States with a life in relief work is surgeon Josephine Tsai '88. Currently on a surgery fellowship at the University of Southern California, her life could be mistaken for that of thousands of other young doctors. But as a volunteer surgeon for Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins sans Frontières), the Paris-based group that recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in some of the most dangerous spots in the world, her life has been anything but normal.
Tsai's first assignment for the organization was a two-month posting to Sri Lanka. On the border between areas held by the Indian government in the south and rebel Tamil soldiers in the north, the area was surprisingly calm, she says, admitting to a little bit of professional disappointment. Aside from a few operations performed while nurses held flashlights over the incision, the challenges were primarily in the area of sanitation.
Her second assignment, a five-month posting to Burundi, was more challenging, both professionally and personally. In a town that was the center of constant small skirmishes and two major attacks during the ongoing civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, she was the only surgeon in a clinic that treated hundreds of victims of vicious sectarian violence.
The wounded she dealt with were mainly women, children, and the elderly, who were singled out as "witnesses" by the rebels. Frequently, the machete and bullet wounds she treated were inflicted specifically to maim and disfigure, and not to kill.
A typical case, she remembers, was a woman who was shot in the hand and in the face. "She hid under a corpse for three days before it was safe for her to come out," Tsai recalls. By the time she arrived at the clinic, gangrene had set in and the hand had to be amputated.
"When I first arrived, I was disillusioned about the motivations of the people I was working with," Tsai says. "Nurses would stand chatting among themselves as trauma cases rolled into the clinic. It was as though their ethics were very different from mine."
Part of the problem, she learned, was a lack of training. When she was able to impart certain skills, she found the local nurses more than willing to apply them. She also discovered that their personal motivations went much deeper than she had understood. These women, she realized, had to walk to work, day and night, through the same streets in which killings were taking place every day, putting their own lives at risk for the pennies per day that Burundi's government paid them.
In February 1999, Tsai's village was the focus of a major attack by rebel forces. The marketplace, which was the center of the assault, was only a hundred yards from the clinic. She performed between 30 and 40 operations in a few days.
The aftermath brought a four-day stream of wounded through her hospital, but one of the operations that left her most affected was performed on a dead woman. The victim, who was pregnant, was attacked with a machete and left eviscerated in the marketplace. Her family brought the body to Tsai, asking her to perform a Cesarean section, so that mother and child could be buried separately. She did it for them.
A few months before that assault, on Christmas Day in 1998, Tsai attended Mass at the local Catholic church. The town was very tense, expecting an escalation in the violence soon, but in the church Tsai found people celebrating Christmas with an elaborate service, complete with a full choir and decorations.
"It was really beautiful," she says. "I think they needed it."
Rob Garver is a journalist working in Washington, D.C.
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