Friday, October 17, 2008

Thoughts on the MBTI Personality Styles of the Candidates

Much has been made of the differences between the temperments of Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama is calm, cool, collected (distant?) and McCain is fiery, a maverick (erratic?). I have been observing the two men closely during the debates and I am convinced that Obama is a Myers-Briggs INTJ and McCain is an ESTP. With three out of four preferences being opposite, no wonder they come across so differently!
First, let's look at how introversion versus extroversion plays out in these two candidates. Obama is an introvert. People close to him say he is hard to get to know; by contrast, those aboard the extroverted McCain's Straight Talk Express bus say he is constantly talking, often telling the same jokes and stories over and over. During the debates, McCain interrupted Obama more than Obama interrupted McCain, although McCain did show a lot of polite restraint. During this last debate, I noticed that McCain used his notepad a lot more than Obama did. He wrote things down -- either what Obama was saying that he wanted to respond to, or the things he himself planned to say -- processing the information externally. It wasn't simply a matter of being more diligent; if anything, I thought Obama's responses were more targeted toward what the interviewer asked and what the other candidate said, but Obama processed the information internally -- he made the notes inside his head. Critics of Obama sometimes say that he hesitates as he begins to speak (I have heard people say he must be lying or making it up, since he has to think so hard about it, but we introverts know that internal processing takes time.)
The combination of introversion plus the judging trait made Obama's responses have the following well-organized pattern: first, a statement that establishes what I am talking about; then, a statement of my position on that issue; then, a transition to the side issue the other candidate raised; then, a statement of my position on that issue, etc.
McCain, an extroverted perceiver, speaks very differently. Sometimes, he moved from one idea to another so quickly that I had trouble following the line of thought. One example -- he was talking about the need to end our dependence on foreign oil and the role that offshore drilling would play in reaching that goal; mid-sentence, he thought about how it was fine to buy oil from Canada, and he said so, and that made him think about how Obama wanted to add some regulations to our trade agreement with Canada, so he mentioned that, and also how he disagreed with telegraphing our intentions to other nations by saying such things and how that might lead to bad relations, so he said all of those things right then and totally lost the thread of his plan to eliminate our dependence on middle Eastern oil.
A result of this speaking style is that McCain gets more ideas into a smaller space of time, but they are expressed less fully and less coherently. Not only is McCain's speech more dense with ideas, his ideas are more specific. This is because he has the sensing preference, so he focuses on facts -- specific bills, particular incidents, concrete proposals. The first question of the third debate was about the country's economic woes. In answering, McCain focused narrowly on the mortgage crisis, and outlined a specific plan to renegotiate mortgages based on the reduced values of homes so that people could afford to stay in their houses.
Obama, by contrast, took the question more broadly. He talked about housing prices, but he also talked about job creation, tax relief, and investing in the future of our economy with educational programs. This is because Obama has the intuitive preference. He focuses on overarching ideas and principles. Critics of his say he is vague and never outlines concrete plans for achieving his goals, and he never defines what "change" means. As a fellow intuitive, I am not bothered by this. I think that once you establish the principles by which you will lead, you can apply those principles to the particulars as they come up; I don't need to hear all the details of every little policy. My criticism of McCain is an intuitive's criticism of a sensor -- much of what he talks about seems small, boring, obscure and tedious. Where is his vision for the country?

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