Lots of Personality
Emily Yoffe takes readers' questions on her Myers-Briggs assessment of the candidates.
Westwood, Mass.: If McCain is an ESTP and those personality types have unusually resourceful survival skills, can resourcefulness under pressure turn into expediency? If so, what are the downsides to the country for that in a president? I was struck by McCain's resourcefulness/expediency in a recent story of him gaming the public campaign finance rules—where he has been on a moral frontline—to use the option of public funding as collateral for a critical private bank loan that kept his campaign afloat before the New Hampshire primary. What else would he do in office if he were backed into a corner on a domestic or foreign issue/crisis?
washingtonpost.com: McCain Got Loan by Pledging to Seek Federal Funds(Post, Feb. 16)
Emily Yoffe: Very astute point. That is perfect ESTP behavior—you do what's necessary at the time to make something happen. Then you worry about the fallout, which you will be able to handle later because you're so good at improvising solutions. ESTPs can be great leaders—decisive, innovative, confident. They can also be too confident and act without enough information. George W. Bush is an ESTP. It's interesting that England turned to an ESTP, Winston Churchill, in time of peril, then threw him out of office once he'd won the war for them. The public knew they needed a different post-War personality type.
Silver Spring, Md.: Maybe that's why this country has been going downhill—we need the ENFPs as leaders and the ESTJs as the worker bees, not the other way around!
Emily Yoffe: The ENFP is Obama—an idealist. As I point out in Slate, very few Idealists get into high elective office. They are better know as leaders of movements: Thomas Paine, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. Obama would be a real break from our usual presidential type. But every Idealist needs worker bees. Obama has even said so when he acknowledged he needs people around him to set up and run systems. Obviously, he has done that very well in this campaign.
La Plata, Md.: Ms. Yoffe, we're discussing your Slate piece on a separate discussion group, even as I type this, and the question has come up as to what your qualifications are for making these evaluations of these politicians against the MTBI "scale"? Earlier you pointed out that you felt this was "journalism," but you have not indicated whether or not you have any background in administering the MTBI, or even any psychological background that might influence where you place a person on the MTBI "scale." (We have a "trained MTBI administrator" participating in our group, and she has contended in the past that laymen often "misapply" personality traits on that scale.) All I can see is that you are applying what you've recently read about the MTBI. Do you have any other qualifications that might inform your judgments?
Emily Yoffe: Has your group come to different conclusions that I did about the personality types? There are 16 types, so everyone fits one of those types. I thought it was an interesting journalist project to see what made sense. Experts in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator write books and draw conclusions about famous people as to their type. I'm sure Thomas Jefferson did not take the MBTI, but he's clearly a INTP.
Chicago: Have there ever been a Rational president? Why do you think there have been so few?
Emily Yoffe: Yes, according to the book, Presidential Temperament by Ray Choiniere and David Keirsey, there have been a few: John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Eisenhower. For one thing, there aren't very many Rationals in the general population. Eighty-five percent of people are either Artisans or Guardians according to Keirsey. For another, rationals are more abstract thinkers, so they can be kind of a baffling type to more concrete thinkers.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I appreciate all your thoughtful questions. May the best type win!
Emily Yoffe writes Slate's "Human Guinea Pig" and "Dear Prudence" columns. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Texas Monthly, the Washington Post, and other publications. She is the author of the book, What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.