Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
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[From the Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 8, 1999, p. 14A]
News with a View
Will Jesse "The Adventurer" run for president? Its academic
By Aubrey Immelman
Personality has attained critical importance in the contemporary study of political leadership, beginning with Vietnam and Watergate and catapulting to center stage with the Clinton presidencys "character issues."
Texas Monthly magazine, in its June report on "Who is George W. Bush?" suggests that even Ronald Reagan, "the most ideological president in modern times," won his elections "by force of personality."
The same can be said of Jesse Ventura, by all accounts an outgoing, charismatic figure on the current political landscape. Perhaps the most compelling thumbnail character sketch of "Jesse the Mind" is conveyed by the "adventurous style," which Dr. John Oldham and Lois Morris describe in The New Personality Self-Portrait (Bantam, 1995).
Following is an inventory of Oldham and Morris eight traits and behaviors that reveal the presence of an adventurous style, annotated with illustrative quotes from Jesse Venturas autobiography, I Aint Got Time to Bleed (Villard, 1999).
Nonconformity. Live by their own internal code of values; not strongly influenced by the norms of society.
"Theres some kind of bachelor strain running through my dads side of the family -- an independent streak, a taste for not having to answer to anybody."
Challenge. Routinely engage in high-risk activities.
"Jerry [Flatgart, a boyhood friend] and I ended up getting labeled. It was always The Jerry and Jim Show. We would find someone to pick on, and wed have fun with them. The other South Siders speculated about who would fall prey to us. There was a teacher in junior high . . . whom we hated. . . . One night we built a stuffed replica of him. . . . Then we traveled the alleyways until we found an aluminum stepladder, and we stole it. We took it to the school and hung [the teacher] in effigy from the flagpole. When we were done, we couldnt decide what to do with the ladder, so we pitched it through the school window."
Mutual independence. Not overly concerned about others; expect each individual to be responsible for him- or herself.
"The Constitution guarantees our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thats all. It doesnt guarantee our right to charity."
Persuasiveness. "Silver-tongued" charmers talented in the art of winning friends and influencing people.
"One day in high school. . . . [w]e threw all our money together and drove down to Marys liquor store near 27th. I put on an army jacket and a pair of shades, and I walked in in broad daylight and ordered three cases of beer and assorted liquor. When I walked in, the guy behind the counter said, You in the army? I said, Nah, I just got discharged."
Wanderlust. Love to keep moving; live by their talents, skills, ingenuity and wits.
"My dream of retirement is to sell everything I own, go to one of the Hawaiian islands, buy a little cottage on the beach and become the surf bum I pretended to be all those years."
Wild oats. History of childhood and adolescent mischief and hell-raising.
"We [the South Side guys] used to sleep in out in the backyard in tents. But as soon as our folks were in bed, we were up and out of the tents, running the streets all night. We stayed out until 2 or 3 in the morning, and we were only in sixth grade."
True grit. Courageous, physically bold and tough.
"We were all tough. We never backed down from anybody. We werent above defending our turf when we had to. . . . Nobody carried guns and knives in those days. . . . If you had a problem to settle, you settled it with skin."
No regrets. Live in the present; do not feel guilty about the past or anxious about the future.
"I love a challenge. I love living life to the fullest. Ive worked hard for everything Ive achieved. Ive taken risks along the way, and I have very few regrets."
Ultimately, adventurous types believe in themselves and do not require anyones approval. This may be Venturas greatest political strength, because career politicians are usually conditioned to be responsive to public and peer approval.
Although fundamentally self-centered, adventurous people are capable of advancing a cause "while in the service of their own experience," according to Oldham and Morris. In this regard, the key to Venturas success will likely be the quality of the people with whom he surrounds himself in the formulation and execution of public policy for Minnesota -- or the country.
Yes, country. My preliminary analysis suggests that Venturas personality dynamics may generate sufficient motive force to propel him into the 2000 presidential election, provided there is a groundswell of grass-roots support to sustain him, which of course he can orchestrate to some extent. His best chance may be in 2000, while his celebrity is still fresh and his political capital mostly intact after only a short stint in government.
Moreover, in the realm of personality traits translated into popular appeal, a parallel study of Vice President Al Gore suggests that Ventura could trump Gore in a three-way presidential race. Now that would really shock the world.
Aubrey Immelman is a political psychologist at St. Johns University and the College of St. Benedict, Minn.
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Last Updated: 16 April 2000