Presidential Leadership & Daddy Issues
I’m not the biggest fan of doing psychological analysis from afar, but I think a shared trait between the last three American presidents is worth considering.
They – Obama, Bush and Clinton – all have issues about their relationship with their father, aka “daddy issues.”
For all three men, I think elements of their leadership styles have some connection to this familial dysfunction.
I (no surprise here) think that the most pathological one of these is Bush. Bush himself described Saddam Hussein as the guy “who tried to kill my dad” and spent every ounce of his political capital ensuring his re-election, often to answer the questions that hounded his entire first term as to whether he would be a one-termer like his father. He also rejected the moderation of his father’s presidency and shunned the centrality of international efforts to his foreign policy – a very public rejection of his dad’s style.
Clinton’s daddy issues were more about his need to be loved, constantly, reflected in his personal excesses but also seen in the manner in which he unflinchingly turned his back on progressivism in favor of a conservative quick fix that often led to quick payoffs over long term stability.
And Obama obviously has issues with his paternal relationship. He wrote an entire damn book about it! I think Obama manifests his daddy issues in the weakest element of his presidency: the desire for compromise. While Clinton is a pleaser, he was willing to leave some people angry if he could get away with it. By contrast, I feel like Obama – especially in his first term – really spent a lot of capital unnecessarily on getting everyone to agree. This often backfired thanks to liberal members of Congress who have been more principled than they were in the ’90s, and a Republican opposition who rejects their own ideas if they come from a Democrat.
On the flip side, these daddy issues were major contributors to the political success of all three men. They all clearly used the dysfunction in their relationships as a motivator to exceed their father’s successes. For better or worse (Bush) they all clearly had their fathers somewhere in their minds as they’ve made their power-related decisions.