Charisma Wins Elections

If you think the people vote on sophisticated understandings of cultural issues, nuanced moral principles, good sense of how a country should be run, or anything else so high-minded, let’s review the record, shall we? I’m going to start with 1980 just because I haven’t been alive any longer than that, and besides, I don’t even remember who ran against Nixon in ’68 and the 70’s were filled to overflowing with incredibly dull men on both sides. Ford versus Carter was not worth calling an election, and voter turnout emphasized this. But the pattern that put Kennedy in the White House with ease should be every bit as clear in the case of Reagan on up.

1980: Reagan versus Carter – Reagan, with an actor’s charisma, defined a very popular legacy of mediocre ideas shared by other guys with great hair, like Jack Kemp.

1984: Reagan versus Mondale – Mondale looked like a stodgy turd even with a chick on the ticket. Reagan with ease, despite looking almost senile at times.

1988: Think George Bush is boring? Then you haven’t met Michael Dukakis!

1992: Despite handling Iraq reasonably well, Bush, like so many ladies, gets manhandled by that handsome Bill Clinton. We like to chalk this one up to Bush having the audacity to raise taxes, a fiscally intelligent move but unforgivable since he said “read my lips” that one time. Excuses, excuses…

1996: Clinton versus Dole: I did my history thesis on Dole and the Food for Peace program, and won a minor award for it. Dole’s still kicking, an honorable and decent man, and just duller than ditchwater compared to Big Bill.

2000: Bush the Younger versus Gore: dear God, the pain of watching these two cardboard suits blathering on about school vouchers, tax cuts, and the environment was just insufferable. What a terrible choice. Bush might have “won”, but they’re both losers.

2004: Just when you didn’t think the Democrats couldn’t find anyone worse than Al Gore, they go and top themselves! John Kerry? It takes serious effort to embody such a complete lack of charm.

2008: HOLY SHIT THAT GUY’S BLACK! WINNAR!!! Who’s that old dude?

2012: See 2008. Who’s that rich guy?

Hint: if you want to know who will win in 2016, wait until the primaries are over, then go to a gay bar in Oregon. Ask the fruits who they’d rather fuck, and there’s your next president. Romney was a pathetic attempt to deal with this naked superficiality, as he’s fairly handsome, but he’s also obviously a tool and a terrible speaker.

It’s not that any of them are good or bad because of their charisma, but that’s just it: they aren’t good or bad because of their charisma, while charisma seems to be the defining factor here. An election is not a character referendum or a policy referendum; it’s a popularity contest, like high school.

Has it always worked this way? Who knows? It certainly has since televisions found their way into people’s houses. Before that, party loyalty mattered more and having the necessary information to make an “informed decision” was likely even more of a joke than it is now.

The childish fantasies about the guy, or the lady, who “ignites everyone’s imaginations” are just that, nothing more. Leadership of a country with serious responsibilities is not a matter of an inspiring narrative, and yet, the people want to look at it this way. Forget this popular vote crap.

Eventually, it might become clear that the Catholics have it right: first, gather up the people with the most connections, education, seniority, or authority in the various regions under the institutions commanded. Then, lock them in a room and tell them to choose which one will be running the shit between now and his death. Yes, his death. And stick with it.

If he fucks things up, I guess they’ll choose differently next time, right? Or if he’s REALLY bad, get the group together again and a unanimous decision can disempower him and decentralize the system, sending more authority to different regions/divisions/subordinate groups. Then, wait for him to die. Stripping him of his position and making a new choice right there just creates incentives for the next front-runner to lie about his performance to get more power for himself while breeding civil war. Special considerations for wartime only.

That’s it. Define the system and stick to it. No matter the mechanics, if you want it to work, you have to expect people – all of them – to change for the system, not for the system to change for them, on any level. Only egomaniacal fools look at it differently.



  1. i agree with you completely, and without knowing it you’ve explained Marshall McLuhan’s theory of media influence (the medium is the message).

    The principle that TVQ (charisma ON CAMERA) determines election wins goes back to the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Nixon was recovering from a recent illness, and unwisely refused the services of a makeup artist, which Kennedy accepted. On TV Nixon looked sweaty, shaky and pale, and Kennedy appeared handsome, calm and collected. The Kennedy-Nixon election was extremely close, and Nixon had a much more substantial national resume. But you know who won.

    Compare that to the last pre-TV President, Dwight Eisenhower. Voters knew him by reputation as the war hero, but how do you think an old, bald guy with a lisp would do if he’d had to compete on camera with a smooth talker who was better-looking? John McCain didn’t do well in that circumstance. His good-looking, functionally illiterate running mate got all the attention!

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