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The Entrepreneur’s Advocate

There is a difficult problem when writing about more recent politicians, everybody has their own political beliefs and opinion on who is to be praised or blamed for things. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan are two Performer Artisans, but both very controversial and are viewed quite differently, depending which side of the fence you are on.

Passions still run high about what he has or has not done, and about how his deeds ought to be judged. He has been presented as a brilliant and courageous American Hero, and as a careless, dull-witted, easily-manipulated man who merely played the role of President as a mere actor.

Actor he was to be sure -- the only professional actor to win the White House—but at the same time Reagan has been virtually unique among American Presidents in his enormously persuasive advocacy of restricted government and of maximum freedom for capitalist enterprise. Whether in political office or out, he has been the entrepreneur’s advocate for more than forty years, and those who belittle his virtuosity as a speechmaker and his understanding of free-market economics will miss the man by a wide margin.

The beginning was simple and pleasant enough. Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, a small town in which the traditional small town virtues still seemed paramount. His family shared, and in many respects were exemplars of, the traditional small town ethos that people should be self-reliant and charitable in deed and spirit, should look after themselves and, when necessary, look after one another. The consensus in Tampico was that the world (at least the world in and around Tampico) was a decent place in which to live, that friends and neighbors had good intentions, and that ill will had to be proven. Nelle Wilson Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s mother, lived these values thoroughly. Though her own family was often in difficult straits, this enthusiastic, kind, and energetic woman (probably a Conservator Guardian) devoted a great deal of her time and energy to helping the less fortunate and the downright needy. She also advised her two sons, Neil and Dutch (Ronald), that it was their obligation to do likewise.

Reagan loved to read as a youngster and later commented that his early reading “left an abiding belief in the triumph of good over evil… There were heroes who lived by standards of morality and fair play.” His unshakeably optimistic faith in the triumph of virtue has stayed with him all his life. Indeed, Dutch Reagan projected this image of natural small-town decency in most of his best movie roles -- it seems likely that he never really noticed the dark side of small town life (as it was portrayed, for instance, in his most successful film, King’s Row). His optimism is one of the most obvious hallmarks of the Artisan character, just as it is part of the message that he has delivered so effectively for so many years.

It was his father, John Edward Reagan, who nicknamed Ronald “Dutch,” declaring when Ronald was born that he looked like a “little fat Dutchman.” Jack Reagan was by career a shoe salesman, and an excellent one. He was also an impulsive Player Artisan who had what his Irish ancestors would have called “a powerful thirst”; he struggled with alcohol all his adult life. Nelle told the boys that they must be patient and tolerant about their father’s difficulty, and she apparently demonstrated well how to maintain such a loving tolerance.

Dutch Reagan’s father, impulsive Player that he was, still found time to demonstrate for his sons passionate and enduring interest in the rights and welfare of the working man and of blacks, Jews, and other minorities. Jack Reagan had a hatred of racial and religious prejudice of any kind and was not afraid to act on what he believed. Ronald recalls his father speaking of an occasion, a bitterly cold evening, when he had taken a hotel room, but then realized that the hotel discriminated against Jews. Jack Reagan refused to stay there; instead he walked out and spent a freezing night sleeping in his automobile.

Dutch’s father was also, by the way, a great raconteur, with the Irishman’s love of story-telling. As is often true of the more expressive Players, Jack Reagan could charm anyone with his stories when he had not had too much to drink, and the young Dutch learned a great deal about telling anecdotes from observing him. Whatever their difficulties might have been, the Reagans were self-sufficient and kindly people who loved their children and wanted the best for them. Neither parent had much schooling, but they both saw the value of education and both were eager for their two sons to attend college. Both older brother Neil and younger brother Ronald eventually did so, but it was not easy: the Great Depression had settled darkly over the country by the time they reached college age.

Neil Reagan remembers his growing up as marked by the family’s constant struggle against poverty and the problem of his father’s drinking. But Player Artisan Ronald remembers his childhood much more fondly than does his brother, referring to that time as “a rare Huck Finn idyll” in which he experienced all the joys of a happy childhood. As is usual with the Player Artisans, Dutch Reagan didn’t seem to have any difficulty getting along with others. He fit in well when he wanted to. But he was by choice a quiet youngster and usually preferred to spend his time alone. Neil was by far the more gregarious of the two and would be found hanging around with the local gangs of kids. He was also the adventuresome brother, the one who could enjoy being a bit “bad.” As for his brother Dutch, Neil once commented that “I don’t think he ever saw the inside of a pool room!” Perhaps not, for young Ronald loved stories about soldiers, athletes, even Presidents, who had started with nothing and became successful and respected, and he nourished and enriched these stories endlessly. He also loved tales of adventure and often used his precious solitude to close himself away from others where he could fight and win glorious battles with his toy soldiers. Pool rooms didn’t offer enough room for adventures and heroes of such large scale. Reagan cheerfully acknowledged all this in a letter many years later, writing “I’m a sucker for hero worship.”

When Reagan graduated from high school he enrolled in Eureka College along with Margaret Cleaver, his first real girl friend and later, briefly, his fiancée. He was already a pleasant, well-mannered young man with handsome good looks. He also had a resonant and magnetic voice, a winning smile, proper and decent behavior, and no social flaws. Artisans, especially Player Artisans, are quick to catch on to what is considered seemly and decorous, the rites, rituals, and ceremonies of the local culture. Artisans will follow these quite unconsciously and spontaneously, not so much because they revere them as because they are so useful in getting them what they want. Reagan was a splendid Player in this regard.

Overall Ronald Reagan was growing up to be a very active, confident, and optimistic young man, and his winning style was already very well developed. But it was at Eureka College that he discovered something which became central to his life. It was there that Dutch Reagan discovered his talents for persuasive public speaking, his love of sports announcing, the excitement of political campaigning, and the heady experience of being on the receiving end of the cheers of the crowd. Further, although he had already had some minor experience with amateur acting and had a taste for it as well, it was at Eureka that he first experienced the wonderful rush of excitement and self-confidence that Artisans often find in stage-acting. Having an impact and impressing others attracted him like a powerful magnet and he was thereafter happily captured in its intense field.

When he entered Eureka College the campus was in turmoil. Money was scarce and the college administration was planning certain cutbacks in its offerings. Many students believed that the integrity of the College’s curriculum was endangered, and shortly after Reagan’s arrival, a student strike forced a mediation meeting. Since freshman would be unaffected by the changes, the students wanted a freshman who could, as an uninvolved party, speak to the question of fairness. Reagan was selected, and Reagan spoke for them. He spoke eloquently, and he captured his listeners thoroughly. Later he commented about this occasion that “I discovered that night that an audience has a feel to it and, in the parlance of the theater, that audience and I were together.” He had also discovered something of his remarkable gift for face-to-face negotiation, the almost magical qualities of his voice and the remarkable appeal of his friendly and unassuming style. Not only could Dutch Reagan be a persuasive speaker, but he could win the warmth and admiration of individuals and crowds simply by “being himself”—and he loved it. And though he was delighted with his success he never became arrogant or self-important about it; in the egalitarian fashion of the Artisan (remember Kennedy’s “band of brothers”) he remained “Dutch” Reagan.

Nor did he forget the lessons he had learned from his parents about social issues. On the football team at Eureka he saw for himself something of the problems of racial discrimination, and he reacted to what he saw in the way his parents had demonstrated. The team, which included three black players, was travelling for a game to a town which happened to be near Reagan’s home. When they tried to book rooms for the night the hotel would not admit the three black players. Dutch Reagan promptly took a leaf from his father’s book: he got enough money from the coach to cover transportation costs, and he escorted the three black players to his own home. They were welcomed warmly by his parents and invited to spend the night.

The young college student Dutch Reagan was a very competent athlete, and became a star swimmer and a first string football player. When he graduated from Eureka in 1932 he was able to combine his love of sports, his ability as a story-teller, and his flair for dramatics, by becoming a sports announcer. One of his early jobs was to reconstruct the plays in baseball games from written play-by-play accounts that came in continuously from the wire service. (Once, when the wire went dead for a short time, he was forced to ad-lib the “action” on the field, never letting the audience know he was making the game up as he went along.) This kind of job was hard work, but Reagan knew that his voice was a powerful asset and a natural gift, and he displayed his Artisan’s flair for spontaneous and engaging commentary about subjects that interested him. However, during his time as an announcer in Des Moines, Iowa he learned another very valuable lesson: that failure to practice that which was not interesting to him -- in this case, radio commercials -- could be disastrous. In fact, he presented his commercials so poorly on the air that he lost his job. So he buckled down to work, practiced hard at his delivery, and was able eventually to regain his job. From that time forward rehearsal found its valued place in his professional tool kit.

In 1937, after five years of sports announcing, Reagan took a gamble: he quit his secure announcing job and left for Hollywood. His optimism was again justified, and he was soon able to break into films. He was a good-looking, personable, cooperative, and pleasing young actor, willing to heed sound advice and work hard at his craft. Though he never quite became a top-ranked “star,” he became a solid journeyman actor who eventually played in more than fifty films over a two-decade career. He easily remembered what he read (when it seemed important to him) and learned as a very young actor how to “become” his character. According to his first drama teacher, he was the character when it was time to perform. This was especially true when he played the role of the decent, clean-cut Midwesterner. To a considerable degree he had only to act like himself for these roles.

The political and social activist Reagan had not disappeared with the emergence of Reagan the actor. Shortly after he arrived in Hollywood, unhappy with actors’ relations with the studios which hired them, Reagan joined the Screen Actors Guild. He soon emerged as an important figure in the Guild and eventually became its president, occupying that office for six years altogether. During that time he busily engaged himself on behalf of the Guild in various negotiations with the film studios. The work was interesting to him, he enjoyed it, and he did a good job with it. And that was sufficient; nobody loves negotiation like an Artisan, after all, and nobody is likely to be as good at it as a clever Artisan. The Artisan Lyndon Johnson is an outstanding example of the superlative negotiator, though Reagan’s easy-going Player style is generally more palatable to others than Johnson’s more high-handed Operator style.

In the late 1940s the anti-communist worries that began to sweep the country led to the notorious McCarthy hearings into the presumed subversive influence of communism in Hollywood. Reagan, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, was called upon to testify before the congressional committee, and here again showed his virtuosity in dealing face to face with people. From the beginning an ardent capitalist, he was untainted by communist affiliations. But many others in Hollywood had joined communist organizations at one time or another, having seen them as social activist groups without subversive intent. Most people dropped their affiliations when the questionable intentions of these groups became apparent to them. But having belonged at any time and for any reason to such groups was enough to make them highly suspect to the more fanatical anti-communists. They might then be “black-listed” by politically powerful fanatics such as McCarthy, and in Hollywood that could mean that they would be unable to find work, sometimes for years. Reagan had no connection with any such groups, his public stance was consistently patriotic, and he had his prodigious competence in dealing with disputants. He was able, therefore, to avoid the trap that so many others fell into: either challenging the committee (usually to the great misfortune of the challengers) or appeasing the congressional inquisition by testifying against friends and acquaintances. The keen Artisan observer and tactician Ronald Reagan came through the ordeal skillfully, and very likely learned much about political maneuvering from the experience.

It was at this time and because of these hearings that he met his future wife, Nancy Davis. He had married his first wife Jane Wyman in 1940, but they divorced in 1948. Though distressed by the divorce, and though he agreed temporarily to play the part of the very eligible man-about-town, Reagan was said to have hated dating and the highly-publicized night life it entailed. On his second try at matrimony Reagan was to choose a mate much more suited to his temperament and character, a very stable Monitor Guardian.

Reagan’s years as a sports announcer and his unfailing wit stood him in good stead as he developed his skills as a public speaker. When his film career began to flag Reagan got a job with General Electric Corporation as host to the General Electric Theatre, a television show, and spokesman for General Electric. In his junkets around the country he would on some days give as many as fourteen speeches, both to GE personnel and to local establishments and municipalities. The speeches were actually one basic speech, slightly modified to fit the locale, and was eventually dubbed “The Speech.” The topic invariably was how indispensable free enterprise is for the health and welfare of America. During these “corporate years,” as they were called, he came to be seen more and more as the champion of business and industry. He told the millions who listened to him how important it is to the nation that businesses be free to choose the means and ends of production and distribution. It is not so much, he said, that government has a problem, as it is that government is the problem. After all, it was free enterprise, he argued, that made America the wealthiest nation in history.

He apparently came to this belief in entrepreneurial freedom rather naturally -- as an Artisan he was a born entrepreneur -- but he also majored in economics in college, studying with particular care the work of Adam Smith and also the Austrian school of economics. In any event, it would be his Artisan’s virtuoso speech-making on the theme of free-enterprise that would take him all the way to the Governor’s seat in Sacramento, to the President’s chair in Washington, and to lasting fame as “The Great Communicator.” For when he spoke, the nation’s entrepreneurs saw before them, at long last, an avowed enemy of big government. Here finally, they said, was someone who would slice the fat out of the monstrous Washington bureaucracy. Here, they thought, was someone who openly advocated the confinement of government to its one legitimate function -- keeping the peace. If he were elected to the presidency he would get rid of all the inefficient bureaus in the government, along with thousands of federal bureaucrats. But that would not be all. Perhaps he would even get rid of the thousands of regulations and red tape that businessmen felt were increasingly strangling trade, for example, some of the 5,600 regulations that he said governed the steel industry.

His job would be to erase such restrictive regulations. Indeed, his eager followers began to anticipate massive deregulation throughout the business world, something in their view long overdue. After all government, he had said to them time and again, must “get off the backs of” American entrepreneurs so that they could get on with their business of making America more prosperous without bureaucratic interference. Furthermore, he said, the colossal waste of bureaucracy must be eliminated, and the Hoover and Grace Commissions had already described in detail just where the cuts could be made. Reagan, his supporters believed, would act on these recommendations.

Reagan entered the oval office with a disarmingly simple agenda consisting of three proposals: release the entrepreneur from government bondage; restrict the size and activity of the federal government; and get tough with the “evil empire,” the Soviet Union. He had dwelt on all three of these themes for a long time, and we should of course not be surprised that his agenda was in keeping with his Artisan character. Reagan’s championing of the entrepreneur is consistent with his Artisan’s laissez faire nature. Second, the reduction in the power of government fits nicely with the individualistic style of his Artisan father, as well as with his own natural Artisan abhorrence for anything which might try to dominate him. And third, as Andy Jackson showed us, nothing is more characteristic of the Artisan than to respond aggressively to the challenge of an aggressor. Thus, believing that the Soviet Union’s avowed aim was, in Khrushchev’s famous words, to “bury” the United States, Reagan made his first priority the re-arming of America. What was needed, said Reagan, was an iron resolve to resist Soviet aggression supported by a large increase in defense spending.

The ultimate effect of Reagan’s presidency will of course be debated for a long time. Some will insist that he is merely another President who not only failed to do what he said he would, but who was also of questionable integrity. Others will take a very different view. One admiring author has written, for example, that “the ultimate irony of the twentieth century may be that lasting world wide political revolution was accomplished not by Trotsky and the communists but by Reagan and the capitalists.”

Reagan has claimed a less exalted place for his presidency. “What I’d really like to do,” he said, “is go down in history as the President who made Americans believe in themselves again.”


Excerpted from Presidential Temperament by David Keirsey, PhD and Ray Choiniere, Phd

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