One of the more striking moments of Monday's first presidential debate was the discussion of the candidates' temperament, with both candidates saying the other did not have what it takes to lead the nation.
But what kind of temperament should the leader of the free world have? What kind of temperament would be dangerous in that job?
MPR News host Kerri Miller called on a historian and a political scientist to discuss historic examples of presidential temperament and how voters can see past the stereotypes and hyperbole to get to a candidate's credentials. She spoke with historian Tim Walch and political science professor Khalilah Brown-Dean. Here are some highlights of the conversation.
Why temperament matters
Brown-Dean:"Temperament or patterns of behavior indicate how we would expect an individual to act in the Oval Office as they exercise their decision making muscles. So we want to know, before we vote, the quality of the person we would have making the most difficult decisions in the Western world."
Temper vs. temperament
Walch:"We think that Obama is too laid back. We want to see that temper in moments of international crisis or domestic instability. But temperament is really about your ability to handle tension, to handle complex situations, and be able to perform under pressure. That's whether you're negotiating with heads of congress or negotiating with heads of state."
The president as the American superhero
Brown-Dean:"We tend to expect a president to be a superhero. We want them to be very strong, we want them to be emotionless [and] we want them to be free of bias, when none of us are that way. [That's] why the candidates who win the presidency really don't look like the average American."
Performance or substance
Walch:"What we're saying we want is deliberation and passion at the same time...Syria is an enormously complex problem. People want a quick, easy, and successful solution. There's the siren song of listening to candidates who say, 'I can solve it, I'll do this, I've got a secret plan.' Wait for the details. One of the good qualities of a good presidential temperament is being skeptical."
Brown-Dean:"We have to be very honest with ourselves about the expectations that governance should be performance art. I think Obama realizes what those expectations were of him coming into the office, people saying, 'he is going to use this position to retaliate against any racial wrongs that have happened in the past.' You have a man who has been very measured in his response, but who has not shied away from that response."
"You can see what happens in a Ferguson or Baltimore...now what we're seeing in Charlotte. And instead of going to the microphone, pounding the podium and demanding that people change, he's working within the justice department, he's commuting the sentences of non-violent drug offenders. So the question for us [is] do we want the performance or do we want the substance?"
The temperament of a CEO vs. the president
Walch:"The president of the United States has influence over selecting a small number of people who work on his staff. Our government is far bigger than the president. So if you have a candidate that says, 'I'll never cooperate, I'll never collaborate.' You've got gridlock. And so those who expect dramatic change out of somebody who says he'll never cooperate, ultimately at the end of the day means we're doubling down on the problems we have today."
Brown-Dean:"Sure we have gridlock but we also have dereliction of constitutional duties. You're required by the office to work with other stakeholders -- that includes Congress, that includes governors, that includes local mayors. So running a corporation is fundamentally different. It's great to have someone with a business background, but it requires a fundamental shift in what we think the product is, who we think the customers are, and what the feedback and responsibilities are of that executive."
Women in power and politics
Walch:"We want our presidents to be forceful, but somehow if a woman is strong and forceful we consider that unattractive. That it is almost an impossible situation. I'm thinking back to Margaret Thatcher's autobiography, where she said to obtain a leadership position she had to change the tone of her voice, she had to speak more forcefully and directly but not without some evidence of a feminine quality."
To hear the entire conversation, select the audio player above.