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In its own way, this is as ambitious as, say, Rossiter's American Presidency or Neustadt's Presidential Power and, obversely, it is more challenging. Yet, despite the great amount of time and intellectual effort which Yale professor Barber has invested in this work, it is doubtful if his psycho-political analysis of modern presidents from Taft to Nixon will make an enduring contribution to the literature. Barber postulates that presidential performance can be explained (and re candidates, predicted) by examining two behavioral touchstones: how actively a president exercises power, and whether or not he ""gives the impression he enjoys his political life."" Application results in four general classifications: (1) active-negative -- Wilson, Hoover, Johnson, Nixon; (2) passive-negative -- Coolidge, Eisenhower; (3) passive-positive -- Taft, Harding; and (4) active-positive -- Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy. Structuring behavioral-personal profiles of presidents as an aid to historical analysis is not new and it can be illuminating (e.g., Mazlish's In Search of Nixon, p. 304). But Barber fails on several counts: he has bitten off more presidents than can be adequately analyzed in one volume; with the soul of a cataloger, he tends to compartmentalize them often ignoring or skewing biographical data which does not conform to his theory; and he fails to take into account the president's political orientation. For instance, the fact that Coolidge and Eisenhower are the only passive-negatives while all active-positives were liberal Democrats could be the result of their ideological convictions rather than psychological make-up. Barber's stated purpose is prediction, long after the upcoming election. Unfortunately, ""the basic material has not yet been generated"" for these ""Presidents-to-be,"" but it could be. What then? We could avoid all candidates of the first three categories, especially active-negatives apt to ""plunge the nation into massive social tragedy."" Though questionable as social scientific history, this will fascinate those interested in charting the presidential personality.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1972
Publisher: Prentice-Hall