Leaders who make history are often provincials: Provincials attempt what sophisticates consider naive. The two current candidates for world leadership [Reagan, Gorbachev] were both country boys, a state park lifeguard and a champion harvester, each an outsider to the inner elites of the government he headed, each in his own way an idealist determined to push beyond the status quo. Reagan had been tailored in Hollywood, but the sophistries of Washington’s nuclear mandarins had failed to complicate his apocalyptic Dixon, Illinois, worldview. Gorbachev’s southern Russian accent and hillbilly grammar offended the ears of the suave Moscow bureaucracy he outmanipulated a dozen times on any ordinary day.
That is from Richard Rhodes’s interesting Arsenals of Folly: the Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. I’ve never seen a good quantitative study of how leadership biography matters for policy outcomes, and I expect that solid results are as hard to find as in birth order studies. Does anyone know of a good, concrete stylized fact here?