After seven years in office our current president is still somewhat of a cipher. What exactly goes on in his head? What does he believe in his heart of hearts? And what's his Myers-Briggs type?
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the world's most widely used personality sorter. It's a basic tool for looking at certain common mental processes, manners of self-expression, and ways of relating to others. It has its critics (often people who misconstrue what it assesses or who have taken it under circumstances where it was not well explained) but, what can I say, it's the market leader when it comes to defining some core ways we are similar and different.
In previous posts, I've looked at Hillary Clinton's Myers-Briggs type, as well as examined some areas of overlap she and Barack Obama have in the Myers-Briggs realm. This time let's put W under the MBTI microscope.
Starting out, let's review two truths. First, there are no good or bad Myers-Briggs types. Characterizing someone as an introvert or extravert, as a sensor or intuitive, as a thinker or feeler, or as a judger or perceiver, has no moral weight. There are good, bad and middling people of all types. So for all of you out there who hunger for the day when W is finally out of office, avoid the temptation of reading Myers-Briggs type descriptions, picking the ones you don't like, and then assigning them to George W. Bush or whoever else earns your enmity. (There was a recent example of this type of reductive reasoning on Slate, where writer Emily Yoffe purported to assess Hillary Clinton's Myers-Briggs type. I hesitate even to link to this article because of its shallow reasoning. But here you go -- judge for yourself.)
Second, consider that the way someone presents oneself in a job, or in sound bites on television, may not reflect one's core self. We have all sorts of masks in every day life. Just think about your last office picnic. With those observations out of the way, let's check out the MBTI functions.
Extrovert or Introvert? Extroverts get energy from other people and action in the world, introverts from themselves or their own space. George W is pretty clearly an extrovert. While he doesn't get out much these days, and appears to be favoring a Carteresque "Rose Garden" strategy or Nixonesque "talking to the pictures on the walls of the White House" strategy, his best moments in the past seem to have been when he was out and about, whether riding his bike on his pretend ranch, going to fundraising events, or landing on aircraft carriers dressed in military drag. (Remember how happy he looked then?) He doesn't seem to spend a lot of time reading or thinking -- recall how his advisors fill him in on world events. An introvert would never have someone else do his reading for him.
Sensor or Intuitive? Opinions vary. Sensing types look at details, facts, concrete reality, and their own realm of experience. They like the tried and true. Intuitive types look for meaning, interrelationships and big-picture concepts. They favor newness for the sake of newness. Given his occasional detachment from reality, many observers of W assume he is an intuitive. Au contraire, I say -- W is not all that interested in big-picture thinking. Yes, he has certain theories about how the world works ("America good, terrorists bad"). But at the end of the day he is more comfortable navigating what he knows rather than what other people theorize. He has been successful during elections in communicating this to the electorate, which is 75% sensing, and only 25% intuitive.
This is one reason he beat Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom are intuitives. This is why I get nervous about Barack Obama's appeal to idealism -- intuitives like me (I'm an ENFJ) quickly connect to this mode of thinking, but we intuitives are a minority of the population and intuitive feelers, the ones who get most excited about hope and related concepts, are just 12.5% of population. In contrast, Hillary's message is more deliberately attuned the majority of America who are sensing types.
Next, a toughie: Thinking or Feeling? Both thinking and feeling refer to thinking processes. The difference is that thinkers prefer to make decisions based on impartial, neutral principles and logic, whereas feelers prefer to make decisions based on strongly held personal values or the effect on other people. A slight majority of men are thinkers and a slight majority of women are feelers. This is one reason why people often think of feelers as "nicer." They are far more likely to consider how others will hear their message and make adjustments in the delivery or content.
Since so many Democrats and liberal types loathe George W. Bush and think his policies are cruel, inhumane and evil, they tend to assume he must be a thinker rather than a feeler. He doesn't bend over backwards to ensure that people in Louisiana believe he cares about them, avoids mention of the war dead, and has been known to make jokes at seemingly inappropriate times. Still, I'm pretty sure he's a feeler.
There are two reasons for this. First, it's clear that he runs his life pretty much according to his own values. Another way of saying this is that reality doesn't get in the way of his beliefs. The same subjectivity that, in a liberal, can result in compassion (for example, giving a convicted felon a second chance to turn his life around) can, in other situations result in wishful thinking ("tax cuts will save the economy") or total rewriting of reality ("we invaded Iraq because of 9/11").
Second, it's clear that W can be very charismatic and has an inherent ability to connect with people from different backgrounds. Remember Alexandra Pelosi's documentary about Bush? One of her amazing discoveries was seeing how charming, funny and easy W can be in the right environment. W's rise in politics was aided by being part of a family line that stretches back to President Samuel Pierce. But it also happened because he connected with lots of people, first in Texas and later throughout the country. We rarely see this side of W, but it's there. I think he's an F.
Finally, Judging or Perceiving? Judging types like closure. They make decisions quickly and want to know where they stand. Perceiving types are more spontaneous and can deal with irresolution. They don't like to be rushed to decisions. W seems decisive. He is impatient with keeping things open, doesn't like long decision-making processes, and apparently when on vacation schedules specific times for his workouts. These are all J-ish characteristics.
Still, I think he is probably a P at heart. P's like to play before they work (J's are the opposite), live more spontaneously, and come alive in crisis, especially if they are sensing-perceiving (SP) types. I think that when W is really on, unstressed, and not out of his depth, he is a typical SP - good at negotiating, alive to the moment, excited by having everything in the air. My hunch is that this is how he was while governor of Texas, when he was known to be practical, creative at finding solutions and sort of fun. (Keirsey, who has written a lot about the four core "temperaments" -- NT, NF, SJ and SP - also notes that SP's often have a "folksy" way of speaking -- dropping g's from the ends of "ing" words, not standing on ceremony, occasionally making malapropisms.) I'm open to debate on this point, but I believe this is one example where someone under stress acts in a different way from his or her core type.
Conclusion: George W. Bush is most likely an ESFP. As Bill Maher once said, he's just in the wrong job for his interests and talents.