The work presented by Stephen G. Walker, Mark Schafer, and Michael D. Young in “Systematic Procedures for Operational Code Analysis: Measuring and Modeling Jimmy Carter’s Operational Code” seeks to provide an alternate method for analysis of a United States president’s operational code. Operational code is broadly defined as the construct in which a president’s perspective on political situations and his resulting political action reside and can be studied. Examining a president’s individual code yields insight into his decision-making and worldview.
This particular work constructs an analysis method that is meant to be less subjective and more reproducible in the long term than past methods. Additionally, the framework created by Walker, Schafer, and Young evaluates a president based on his real decisions and actions in the overarching context of political power, whereas past operational code analyses have focused more on the president’s stated views on and theoretical responses to different issues.
Past studies also have been rooted in the perspective that operational code is analogous to a belief system, which has been unreliable in encompassing the lack of cohesion among a president’s different views.
To reassess this former perspective, Walker, Schafer, and Young conducted their research from the view that operational code is comprised of a variety of mindsets which are not always consistent with each other, allowing for a greater diversity of presidential perspective between different issues. This analysis incorporates ten previously-posed research questions, five of which investigate the president’s philosophical tendencies, while the other five relate to his instrumental tendencies.
The philosophical tendencies encompass the president’s innate views and perspective, whereas the instrumental tendencies include the president’s history of political action and past trends of interaction with external political members. This study seeks to answer the original research questions by measuring the president’s corresponding propensities in each of the two categories.
The subcategories within the president’s philosophical perspective include assessments of the president’s general view of the political arena and specific opponents, conceptualization of reality, belief in chance and predictability of both life and the political realm, and confidence in his capability to influence results. The instrumental subcategories include the president’s value of strategizing and tactical planning, views of effective execution, views of intentional action, perspective on the role of risk, and the use of varying methods to carry out operations. The authors construct a numerical scoring system that evaluates each tendency as a positive/negative or cooperative/conflictual response with respect to other political players or with respect to the president himself, depending on the tendency being measured. The scoring is based on the verb usage of the president in speeches given during his term.
Once all subcategories have been scored, the indices are synthesized to give an overall score and sign that correspond to differences between the leader and others and the degree to which the leader is cooperative/conflictual in relation to others, respectively. President Jimmy Carter is the case study of the analysis, and the aforementioned scoring system is used to evaluate his tendencies in each area based on a pool of 22 speeches he gave throughout his presidency. Upon examination, Carter’s operational code showed a clear division into two distinct eras within his term. The first three years represent the first era, characterized by high levels of cooperation, a relatively optimistic worldview, a tendency toward risk aversion, and a generally more positive use of power. The second era encompassed the final year of his presidency, and it was marked by the USSR invading Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage situation.
The analysis of this year showed that President Carter shifted negatively in two of the five philosophical subcategories, yet changed little in his instrumental propensities. The greatest negative changes occurred in President Carter’s optimism and his view of the political world, as well as in his aversion to conflict. The authors note, however, that Carter’s greatest shifts occurred in his perceptions of others, whereas his perspective on himself remained largely stable. Walker, Schafer, and Young conclude that the scoring infrastructure and analysis method used accurately depict President Carter’s operational code throughout his presidency when compared to past studies and hypotheses. This work would be especially relevant for scholars investigating a president’s consistency in perspective throughout his time in office.