Presidential Character and Judgment: Obama's Afghanistan and Health Care Decisions


Stephen J. Wayne is a professor of government at Georgetown University. He teaches courses on the American presidency and psychology and politics. His most recent book is Obama For and Against Himself.


Presidential character affects decision making. It influences cognition, deliberation, and judgment. It also contributes to beliefs and interpersonal relations that shape the process and product of presidential decision-making process. President Obama's decisions on the war in Afghanistan and health care reform made during his first 13 months in office are consistent with his general character orientation, basic beliefs, and operating style, although they show different dominant attributes. The Afghanistan decision reflects Obama's incisive, calculating, consensus-oriented style; it also demonstrates his need to fight back when he feels threatened. His health care decision in the aftermath of the 2010 Senate election in Massachusetts shows his determination, perseverance, and political skills; it also indicates his willingness to go the extra mile when he personalizes an issue.