Who has the character & temperament to be President?


Recently there's been a lot of talk about the temperaments
of our presidential candidates. John McCain's temperament has been criticized
as being hot-headed and mercurial, even "erratic." Barack Obama's temperament,
meanwhile, has been lauded as being unfailingly calm, unflappable. During an
economic crisis, it is claimed, the American people will seek just such a
level-headed approach.

Nonetheless, as I argued in an article for National Review,[1] in
the first debate, it was McCain's temperament that showed to advantage. While
Obama was trying hard to appear presidential, McCain's passionate love for his
country, the soldiers in Iraq,
and the veterans shone forth. After the debate, several commentators expressed
puzzlement by the fact that Obama seemed to agree with McCain a lot, for a

Of course! This is because he is phlegmatic.

One of the classic four temperaments originally proposed by
Hippocrates (the father of medical science) the phlegmatic temperament is known
for being harmonious, calm and easy-going, diplomatic. At first glance, one
might think even presidential.

McCain, on the other hand, is choleric. Cholerics are passionate, decisive, opinionated,
stubborn, and driven. To paraphrase choleric Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there
is nothing they love so much as a good fight. His
temperament is in part what defines him as a war-hero and Senate maverick. He
is passionate, courageous, and capable of making tough decisions without
pandering to anyone.

Phlegmatic and choleric are just two of the classic four temperaments originally proposed by
Hippocrates, the father of medical science, circa 350 BC. Our books, The
Temperament God Gave You
and The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse, explore
the concept of the classic four temperaments in detail. (www.sophiainstitute.com )  In a nutshell, temperament is that part of the
human personality that is innate in us, from birth. It doesn't change much over
time. Though it is not the whole of one's personality, the way we are
"hard-wired" is vitally important.

Cholerics like
McCain and Roosevelt, are classic leaders–passionate, decisive, outspoken, and
persevering. Sanguines are
schmoozers–friendly, talkative, impulsive, and optimistic. One writer
described Bill Clinton as having a "desperate need to make you like him." This
is typical of a sanguine. Melancholics
are intense, noble, pessimistic and, well, melancholy. (Think Abraham Lincoln.)
And phlegmatics (like Obama) are calm under pressure, easy-going, diplomatic.

One's character is, arguably, more important than one's
temperament. If we are talking about character, McCain has certainly proved his
to be courageous, noble, persevering, and strong. We know very little about
Obama's character, other than what we have learned from his two biographies: a
smart man, he seemed lost throughout much of his youth, and only fairly
recently came to focus his attention in an ambitious and swift rise to
political ascendance.

But the media are focusing on temperament rather than character–perhaps
precisely because they believe that this is one area where Obama shines. But
every temperament has both strengths and weaknesses. The flip side of Obama's
even temper is that he is dispassionate, detached, too capable of getting
along. He may acquiesce too easily,
may be too willing to compromise his own (and our country's) values–in the
face of very real threats. Dreams from My Father reveals Obama's temperament
as being, on many occasions, unwilling to confront difficult situations and
instead, content to retreat in silence. In one telling interchange, a fellow
organizer confronts Obama:

            "Do you mind if I ask you
something, Barack?"

            "No, go ahead."

            "Why are you here? Doing
this work, I mean."

            "For the glamour."

            "No, I'm serious. You said
yourself you don't need this job. And you're not very religious, are you?"


            "So why do you do it?
That's why Will and I do this, you know. Because it's part of our faith. But
with you, I don't- "[2]

After his initial flippant response ("for the glamour"), Obama never really
answers this question. He leaves it hanging in the air. "I don't think our
reasons are all that different," he finally offers-a non-answer, a kowtow to
both sides, a half-hearted appeal to faith without any real substance. Sort of
like his appeal to "change."

The danger for phlegmatics is that they may agree at all costs, even to the
point of sacrificing their own principles. Obama quit his church of twenty
years when it proved too big a negative for his campaign. Either Obama
sacrificed his own principles for the sake of the election, or he had never
agreed with Jeremiah Wright in the first place, and had been compromising his own
principles for twenty years!  Either way,
one questions his conviction.

McCain, on the other hand, has both the temperament and the character to do what
is necessary to see this country through our present financial crisis–as well
as the moral crisis of abortion, the threat of terrorism, and the oppression of
peoples around the world.

 "[Obama] is the least angry man," praises
Joe Klein, in a recent article in Time magazine. [3] That
may be. But there is a time and a place for righteous

Which candidate has the moral fiber, the strength of character, the
conviction and, yes, the strong-willed temperament necessary to take on the
true crises of our time?


[1] Bennett,
"It's a Matter of Temperament." www.nationalreview.com

[2] Barack
Obama, Dreams from My Father. New
York: Three Rivers Press, 1995. pp 176-179.

[3] Joe
Klein, "Crisis Management." Time. vol. 172, no. 15, 2008.



  1. James-283154 October 31, 2008 Reply

    I am pro-life not only because of my personal morality but because of the beliefs in my Catholic faith. But something is very troubling to me about this election. There are many people who claim to be pro-life but only talk about one pro-life issue, death to the unborn by abortion. Some have gone as far as to imply that it would be a sin to vote for Obama because of that single issue. I have to say that the Catholic Church seems to be somewhat guilty of that as well although in more of an indirect way.
    My belief is that there are several more issues that should be included under the heading of pro-life. These issues should be recognized because they are also causing thousands of American deaths. Some are listed below.
    In 2006 it’s estimated that 27,000 Americans died because they couldn’t afford health care insurance.
    In the US, 2,660 children are born everyday into poverty and 27 die because of it. In New York City alone 762,000 children live in poverty.
    Babies born into families whose income is at or below the poverty level die at twice the rate in their first year than babies from families whose income is above the poverty level.
    There is inadequate sex education available to help reduce or prevent unwed pregnancies and a lack of sufficient programs to counsel teenage girls who become pregnant.
    Over 4100 soldiers have died and over 22,000 have been injured and handicapped in the Iraq war.
    I believe these and other issues not listed here must be grouped under the pro-life umbrella when considering my vote. These deaths are no less immoral and sinful than abortion. Yes, we do need to fight wars to defend our nation but in this case we were rushed into a war when there were still other options and sanctions that could have been explored to remove Saddam Hussein. We also mismanaged the war because we didn’t listen to our generals in regards to invasion troop levels. This incompetence caused unnecessary deaths and injuries to our troops. Let’s not forget that over 50,000 Iraqi civilians have also been killed. I can relate personally to this war experience because I served with the Marine Corp in Vietnam.
    Where is the outrage from Christians and churches of all denominations on all of these other pro-life issues? Why are they only focused on one type of death (abortion) for this election? We need to stop letting only one pro-life issue decide our vote. Allowing a woman a choice to have an abortion is clearly a liberal policy but many of the other deaths and sufferings listed above were allowed under conservative policies. It’s clear to me that there are policies in both parties that can lead to death for Americans.
    Then is it a sin to vote for either candidate? I don’t believe it is. Instead of voting against a candidate because of policies that could lead to American deaths we should vote for the candidate that we believe has the policies that will provide for the welfare of the greatest number of Americans, that is the lower and middle class. We also expect that candidate to have the most Christian and compassionate values. His good policies should address the largest amount of these pro-life issues and greatly improve or eliminate them. Maybe neither candidate meets these requirements completely but we need to choose the one that comes closest in our opinion. It may be obvious who I’m supporting but every one of us can decide for ourselves. My point is we must stop deciding our vote based on only one pro-life issue, namely abortion. We must each vote our conscience and include all pro-life issues in our decision to pick the best candidate for all Americans.

  2. Stephanie-302804 October 27, 2008 Reply

    As Catholics, we are called to protect life, especially the lives of the most innocent. One cannot answer that call as a Catholic and vote for Obama. They can't. If Catholics are serious about wanting to protect life, there really is only one option- John McCain. He may not be the most pro-life candidate when you factor in third party candidates, however, none of those third party candidates have a snow ball's chance in …. at winning. One of the saddest things I have heard this election season is pro-life Catholics refusing to vote for McCain because they want to make a statement. Not voting for McCain is just as bad as voting for Obama. If Obama wins, we will be in real trouble when God reaches down His hand to punish us.

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