W. vs. Al Gore
Assessing the candidates
his most recent book, The Presidential Difference: Leadership
Style from FDR to Clinton (Free Press), professor of politics
Fred I. Greenstein analyzes 11 presidents and rates their presidential
performance in six categories. After the Democratic convention concluded,
PAW asked Greenstein to rate this year's presidential contenders,
Al Gore and George W. Bush, and his analysis follows.
What can you say about
the political incubation of George W. Bush and Al Gore?
Greenstein: To begin
with they have had almost antithetical life histories. George W.
Bush was the rebellious son of a politically prominent public figure,
drifting from job to job, drinking heavily, until he gave it up
at age 40 and began to acquire a sense of direction. Even so, he
did not go into politics until the early 1990s, when he began to
seek and then won the Texas governorship. Albert Gore, Jr., on the
other hand, was the dutiful son of a prominent politician. He was
intensely interested in politics by his early teens, he did a Harvard
senior thesis under the dean of presidential scholars, Richard Neustadt.
He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 and the Senate
in 1984, marking himself from the start as a leader not in policy
making but in identifying issues (like the environment) and putting
them on the national agenda. In contrast to Bush, who seems not
to contemplated a run for the presidency until his landslide election
to a second term as governor, Gore has long aspired for the White
House, and made an unsuccessful run for the Democrat nomination
qualities should we look for in a president?
Greenstein: In The
Presidential Difference, I used six yardsticks for identifying
the strengths and weaknesses of the presidents from Franklin Roosevelt
to Bill Clinton. Let me review them and say how I think Bush and
Gore measure up.
1. Use of the bully
pulpit. The presidency places a great premium on its incumbent's
ability to communicate to the public. In this realm neither candidate
has anything approaching the eloquence of the great presidential
communicators of the past - for example, FDR, John Kennedy, and
capacity. Poorly organized White Houses can be a prescription
for political disaster. Examples of presidential fiascoes that resulted
from organizational flaws are Kennedy's failed attempt to land anti-Castro
insurgents and Cuba's Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra scandal that
erupted on Reagan's watch. Judging from the smooth operation of
Bush's campaign organization and the chaotic nature of Gore's, Bush
appears to have the edge in this realm.
3. Political skill.
The gridlock-prone American political system calls for a chief executive
who is an able political operator. Here Gore has the advantage of
his many years in Washington, but during those years he has been
more of an issue politician than a coalition builder. For all of
lateness in entering politics, Bush has been something of a natural
on the Texas scene. Upon taking office he staked off a small number
of issues to promote, getting results in each case. Along the way,
he had one-to-one meetings with every members of the Texas legislature,
and formed effective alliances with key Democratic legislators.
4. Policy vision.
The superb political skills of Texas's Lyndon B. Johnson did not
keep him from leading the nation into the quagmire of Vietnam. At
least when it came to foreign policy Johnson lacked what George
Bush senior called "the vision thing." When it comes to
having personal policy commitments, Gore is light years ahead of
Bush. But Bush has been good at surrounding himself with able advisers
and drawing on them to give him political direction. Still, a president
cannot be an empty suit. Advisers sometimes split down the middle,
and the buck stops in the Oval Office.
5. Cognitive style
and ability. Here again Gore is ahead of Bush. Both men clearly
have substantial native intelligence, but from college on Gore has
used his mind to the utmost. Bush, in contrast, seems impatient
with the play of ideas and reluctant to engage in substantial intellectual
effort. His claim is that he focuses on the big picture and does
not distract himself with details. But his lack of interest in details
is such that he has resisted even reading the executive summaries
of reports that have come his way, insisting that his aides highlight
their most important points.
6. Emotional intelligence.
This term has come into use to distinguish people who are master
of their own feelings and turn them to constructive uses from those
whose passions get the best of them, undermining their everyday
actions. Among the modern presidents, several were very bright but
lacking in emotional intelligence. Richard Nixon had an impressive
strategic intelligence that led to the great foreign policy achievements
of his first term, but his lack of emotional self control led him
into the abuses of power which destroyed his presidency. Bill Clinton
is one of the smartest people to serve as president, but his presidency
has suffered from a lack of focus and self discipline, which at
its most extreme was manifested in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Neither of this year's
candidates seem to me to be emotional disaster areas. Both would
be reliable custodians of the nation's nuclear deterrent. Gore,
however, has shown a pattern of political caution which seems almost
to reflect too much self control. Bush has sometimes seemed emotionally
shallow, as in his blithe insistence in the guilt of all of the
many recipients of the death penalty during his time as governor.
The campaign itself, and especially the debates (if they take place),
will provide the American people with a good test of the emotional
and other qualities of the candidates. We should stay tuned.
Robert A. Dahl,
First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty
Inventing Al Gore: A Biography
Joseph M. Williams,
Style: Toward Clarity and Grace
Charterhouse of Parma (Richard Howard translation)
J.M. Coetz, Disgrace
The Louis Armstrong Companion: Eight Decades of Commentary
Coal: A Memoir and Critique
Illustration by Mike