My occupation is a statistician. I tell people it is like "CSI without dead bodies" because analyzing a set of data that has been collected is like doing an autopsy on a deceased person in the sense that I'm trying to learn what I can from what statistics and information are available. Except in this case the information does not involve gross things. For me the research process can be humorous, scary, but always captivating.
On December 31, 2004 I was at a spiritual retreat for New Years Eve. We were having a discussion about moral dilemmas. An older woman wearing a mink coat was asking about how much money she should give to those who were killed in the Indian Ocean Tsunami which had just happened. She had said that she was saddened that 200,000 people were killed. I had pointed out to her that about that many people were killed in the Iraq War which began in 2003 according to a survey estimate which came out before the 2004 election. She responded "yes but that has made us safer."
At the start of the Iraq War according to a Washington Post Poll (Sept 2003) 69% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was linked to the 9/11 attacks when there was no evidence to support it, only rumors and fear. A few of those who disagreed with this belief had alternative theories that it was the Bush administration who was behind the attacks which can be taken apart with some logic. Fear is a powerful tool for overriding people's logic even about matters of life and death.
The Aspen Ideas Festival had an interesting discussion of a recent survey of changes in US attitudes in the last decades. The results can be summarized as the country has lost it's sense of optimism and it will be hard to turn around. Many do not believe the death of Osama bin Laden will have a positive effect for the safety of Americans. It aired on C-SPAN. I cannot embed the video here but I can link to it below:
Last month Stephen Colbert had Dr. Nasir Ghaemi on his show who wrote a book titled A First Rate Madness leaders saying that America's more successful Presidents such as Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt have had a predisposition to bipolar disorder (it used to be called manic depression) or depression while most of our less successful one's were more normal like Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover, or George HW Bush I. These mood disorders are genetic according to Ghaemi and other psychiatrists.
Colbert uses the example of Ronald Reagan of someone who was normal and was a successful President and Ghaemi sort of agreed about him being normal but not really about his leadership. I must point out that Reagan did have an alcoholic father growing up (which can be inherited but Reagan apparently wasn't an alcoholic himself) and his family disagrees about whether he suffered from Alzheimer's while President. If one looks through other leader's backgrounds it's possible to find other abnormalities in their psyche. Some mental health struggles should not disqualify a person from elective office.
Another problem with Dr. Ghaemi's theory is that we often place too much emphasis on the characteristics of leaders to understand how things happen and too little on the circumstances that surround them. This is called the Great Man Theory of history. It may be irrelevant in the long run whether Barack Obama is too normal or not to handle our current crisis if the movements around him do not motivate him to do what is necessary as he prepares his jobs address. Roosevelt and Lincoln were pushed to do great things like create social security and end slavery by popular movements which had been working for years to make these things happen. This doesn't mean that leaders do not matter. No one wants leaders like Nero or Caligula.