What Kind of Temperament Is Best?

Four historians discuss how the personalities of Presidents can determine how they handle crises


When John F. Kennedy went eyeball to eyeball with Moscow, he defined cool under fire. The rest of his tenure wasn't always so smooth.

TIME recently gathered four presidential historians--George Mason University's Richard Norton Smith, Yale University's Beverly Gage, and Russell Riley and David Coleman of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia--to discuss presidential temperament: what it is, who had it and how much it matters in the White House. An excerpt of their conversation:

Gage: What people are trying to get at when they use the word temperament is something along the lines of instinct--how someone approaches a situation and particularly, I think, how someone approaches a crisis.

Riley: It's a little bit easier if you're talking about an...

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