Saturday, February 11, 2012

David Brooks on Mitt Romney's Lack of an Internal Sense of Vision


David Brooks has been getting more and more into psychology over the last decade (as his most recent book, The Social Animal, makes clear), so it's not surprising to see this psychological analysis (The Crowd Pleaser) of Romney's finger-in-the-wind style of politics.

After pointing out a few similarities between Romney and Obama, he makes this observation: "But one glaring difference is that Obama seems self-sufficient while Romney seems other-directed."

He goes on to explain what he means by an other-directed person (in contrast to the inner-directed person, who was more common in the industrial age: strong internal convictions, rigid, steadfast):
The other-directed personality type emerges in a service or information age economy. In this sort of economy, most workers are not working with physical things; they are manipulating people. The other-directed person becomes adept at pleasing others, at selling him or herself. 

The other-directed person is attuned to what other people want him to be. The other-directed person is a pliable member of a team and yearns for acceptance. He or she is less notable for having a rigid character than for having a smooth personality.
If you notice, he did NOT say Obama is inner-directed - he said Obama is "self-sufficient." It's not clear if he sees that as a higher developmental stage, as for example:

inner-directed = traditional or pre-conventional
other-directed = modern or conventional
self-sufficient = post-modern or post-conventional

However, Brooks isn't advocating that Romney become self-sufficient, like Obama, he is advocating that Romney revert to an inner-directed perspective. This is traditional conservative thinking.
This is a bad moment to be coming across as an other-directed person. Americans are again in a state of spiritual anxiety, wondering if they are losing the hardy pioneer virtues that built the nation and defeated fascism and communism. In a period of fragmentation, information overload and social distrust, they want a leader who is rooted and resolute. 

Republicans are especially suspicious of the other-directed type. They feel as if they are battling against the headwinds of a hostile elite culture. They want their candidate to have built his temple upon a rock, to possess an unshakeable set of convictions, to be impervious to the opposition of Washington’s entrenched interests. They also believe that the next president is going to have to make some brutally difficult decisions in order to reduce the debt. This is not a task for someone who is perpetually adjusting to market signals.
When faced with new situations that are complex and challenging (such as the current financial crisis, the Syria/Iran problem, and the whole mess of other geo-political issues), the conservative reaction is to "get back to our roots," or "back to basics," but it's not to explore new options and new perspectives.

The inner-directed approach Brooks is advocating for Romney might win him the election, but it will produce simplistic and simple-minded solutions to problems that are mind-bogglingly complex.

That certainly isn't what I want in a president.
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