There are two kinds of temper that seem to have been nearly indispensable in the Presidency. One is contrived indignation. Nothing is more valuable in politics than the ability to summon up histrionic anger on a moment’s notice. A recent example is Bill Clinton’s conveniently blowing up at Jesse Jackson near an open microphone during the 1992 campaign. The all-time Academy Award-winning performance, though, was put on in 1980 by—unsurprisingly—Ronald Reagan, when he waylaid George Bush in a New Hampshire primary debate by declaring, “I paid for this microphone!” No matter that his campaign had set up the whole incident or that his lines were taken almost verbatim from a speech by Spencer Tracy in the 1948 film State of the Union; it was an extremely effective piece of political theater.
The other most effective presidential temper seems to be the ability to channel all of the office’s inherent frustrations and aggravations into a focused, useful, limited hatred toward various persons. Just how limited of course depends on the President. For Andrew Jackson, it extended (in part) to the Bank of the United States (“The bank, Mr. Van Buren, is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!”), to Henry Clay (“the basest, meanest scoundrel that ever disgraced the image of his God”), to John C. Calhoun (“I will hang him higher than Haman!”), and to the British Empire (see “New Orleans, Battle of”).