Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes speaks at a news conference in
Goffstown, N.H. (AP photo)
This is one of a series of political profiles produced by
political psychologist Aubrey Immelman and his students in the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics at the
College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn.
January 9, 2000
Forbes has a lot in common with Gore
By Suzanne Wetzel
and Aubrey Immelman
College of St. Benedict
and St. John's University
Recently, in an interview on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," host
Bill O'Reilly ambushed one of us with the question, "Why is [Steve Forbes] running so
hard [for president]?"
At the time, we could muster little more than a lame "Steve Forbes is difficult to
read," deflecting the question for the time being.
But the question is an important one both for voters and for those with an academic
interest in presidential politics and the personality beneath the political persona.
To fathom Forbes' presidential ambitions, one has to understand that his father, presiding
over the Forbes publishing empire, was an extremely powerful man with his own political
passions, who served in the New Jersey Legislature and twice ran unsuccessfully
for governor in the 1950s.
Undoubtedly, Steve Forbes owes much of his ambition and success to his father.
How did Steve Forbes get admitted to Princeton, despite being a less-than-stellar student?
His father's influence, some would say. How did Steve Forbes become a business tycoon,
conscientiously managing the family business while his maverick father lived it up
motorcycling and hot-air ballooning around the country? How has Steve Forbes finance his
campaign? His father's publishing empire, primarily.
This is not to say that the younger Forbes has not succeeded by dint of his own hard work
and ingenuity. With Steve Forbes at the helm, Forbes magazine has become the industry
leader in advertising pages, a feat his father never achieved.
The emerging picture of Steve Forbes is in some ways quite similar to that of Al Gore,
whose father was a U.S. senator.
Both men had powerful, successful fathers who reached the pinnacle of success in their
chosen careers. Both fathers were active in politics, yet never realized their
Without delving too deeply into their hidden psychological motives, on the face of it both
Forbes and Gore coincidentally, both named after their fathers are carrying
the torch of their family name.
But what we do know is that Forbes and Gore have strikingly similar personality patterns
and some telling differences.
First and foremost are their shared conscientious tendencies. Conscientious personalities
are dependable, disciplined, prudent, and restrained. They are diligent about duty and
responsibility and dedicated to moral principle. Their characteristically solemn mood is
conveyed in an unrelaxed, strained demeanor the outer residue of their inner
tightness which accounts in large measure for their deficits in political charisma.
Though these traits can hamstring a candidate on the campaign trail, within reasonable
limits they can be admirable qualities in a leader. A potential flaw in leaders with this
makeup is a self-defeating propensity for dogmatically pursuing personal policy
For Gore, what comes to mind is his erudite but in places bizarre environmental treatise,
"Earth in the Balance," which may come back to haunt him in his quest for the
In the case of Forbes, we need look no farther than his abortive Johnny-One-Note flat-tax
1996 presidential campaign.
Beyond their conscientiousness, both Forbes and Gore have an aggressive streak
though it is a defining character trait for neither. More pertinently, their aggressive
leanings have dissimilar roots and, we believe, vastly different functions.
To appreciate this point, we must turn to a third commonality, social reserve, which
despite surface similarities marks the pivotal personality distinction between Forbes and
Gore: Forbes is shy but not an introvert, while Gore is introverted but hardly shy.
The distinction is more than just semantic. Genuine introverts like Gore are little moved
by prospects of pain or the promise of pleasure; they are complacent, most content when
left to their own devices.
Need for acceptance
In contrast, diffident personalities like Forbes deeply desire social acceptance but are
sensitive to rejection, and dread humiliation.
Though somewhat of an oversimplification, we can state in general terms that for Forbes,
negative campaigning and personal attacks are preemptive strikes to ward off the
threatening prospect of humiliation.
The roots of his aggression in fear of shame is revealed in the vindictiveness and
gratuitous quality of Forbes' preemptive counterdenigration: He called Pat Robertson a
"toothy flake," ventured that Jesse Ventura was living proof that professional
wrestlers ought to wear protective headgear, and suggested that Gore himself could serve
as case in point of the effects of global warming on the human brain.
For the Spock-like Gore, aggression is more of a strategic even conscientiously
rehearsed political ploy to one-up his opponent. True to his nature, his attacks
are apt to be impersonal, hinging on the minutiae of public policy. Thus, Gore has charged
that Bill Bradley's proposals for health care will break the bank.
If Gore is the dutiful but overeager student desperately trying to impress the teacher
("I took the initiative in inventing the Internet"), Forbes is the forlorn
schoolboy hoping against hope to be the first pick when choosing sides for basketball.
In the end, perhaps, discretion would dictate that Steve Forbes alone can answer Bill
O'Reilly's vexing question. But as even Forbes must realize, it is unlikely that he'll get
the Republican nod come convention time, much less be elected in November.
Yet, chances are he'll run again, even if it means dipping deeper into the Forbes fortune
to chase his dream.
Suzanne Wetzel is a senior elementary education major from Bismarck, N.D. She
participated in the "Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates" course
taught last fall by Aubrey Immelman, associate professor of psychology, at the College of
St. Benedict and St. John's University.
George W. Bush