Portraits by Other Means

Myers-Briggsing Our Leaders

Myers-Briggsing Our Leaders
Credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi

Sometimes—all the time—I think about presidents and presidential candidates, and what it would be like to meet them. My psychiatrist says it’s because I don’t get enough sleep, but I think it’s because I like to judge peoples’ personalities by their handshakes.

Newt Gingrich

As often as not, Mr. Gingrich grasps the extended hand and offers a noncommittal greeting, the same as saying “Nice to see you” at a cocktail party when you’re hedging because you’re not quite sure if you’re meeting someone for the first time.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is a Guardian, and her specific type is an ESTJ, what Keirsey calls “the Supervisor.” Supervisors are, Keirsey says, steadfast, cautious, methodical. They are the reliable, detail-oriented people without whom organizations and society fall apart—which is something ESTJs won’t hesitate to point out. “[T]heir first instinct is to take charge and tell others what to do,” says Keirsey. They are “devoted public servants, seeing their role in government … in almost sacred terms of self-sacrifice and service to others. This service is an obligation, not given freely and joyously.”

Millard Fillmore

Fillmore was a likable fellow. He mixed readily. He was most persuasive in small groups; his stolid style did not play well before large audiences. He spoke slowly, deliberately, usually using simple expressions and short sentences.... “A spark of idealism smouldered in his mind,” biographer Robert J. Rayback has written. “Because his whole training had been aimed toward making or improving his livelihood, nothing could ever ignite the spark that would place him in that class of complete idealists who steadfastly cling to their visions no matter ho inimical to their interests. But the trait was there, seldom dominating, yet always helping to shape his values.”

Lyndon B. Johnson

Drawing upon hours of newly released White House tapes and dozens of interviews with people close to Johnson, [scholar Robert] Dallek has created, in this volume, a minutely detailed portrait of Johnson as a contradictory and larger-than-life figure, a Shakespearean character: needy, driven, devious, magnanimous and explosive. There is little about this portrait that is really new; in the last six months alone, Michael R. Beschloss’ Taking Charge (an annotated collection of Johnson’s White House tape transcripts) and Jeff Shesol’s Mutual Contempt (an analysis of his rivalry with Robert F. Kennedy) have given us similar portraits of Johnson. But Dallek most persuasively shows how Johnson's personality informed his policy making and day-by-day decisions.

Mitt Romney

For a candidate who is exceedingly risk-averse, Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands.

“Sisters?” he asked. (Nope, stepmother and stepdaughter.) “Your husband?” he wondered. (No, just a friend from the neighborhood.) “Mother and daughter?” he guessed. (Cousins, actually.)

The results can be awkward. “Daughter?” he asked a woman sitting with a man and two younger girls at the diner in Tilton, N.H., on Friday morning. Her face turned a shade of red. “Wife.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Roosevelt had mild constant manic symptoms. Called hyperthymic temperament, this kind of personality is biologically and genetically related to manic-depression. Such people have very high energy levels, and are extroverted, talkative, sociable, humorous, charismatic, productive, libidinous and workaholic. And, as much scientific research shows, hyperthymic personality enhances resilience to stressful or traumatic experiences. People with hyperthymic personality, when exposed to traumas (such as war or terrorist attacks or life-threatening illness), are less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


TMN Editor Leah Finnegan is from Illinois by way of Texas. She splits her time between New York City and her website. More by Leah Finnegan