Rethinking charisma and its role in politics

While charisma is a great quality to possess, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor when electing a politician. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has recently become quite the topic of interest due to her success at


While charisma is a great quality to possess, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor when electing a politician.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has recently become quite the topic of interest due to her success at the Ames Straw Poll and because of the controversy that seems to follow her wherever she goes. Despite all this attention, some key facts about her past are rarely mentioned.

For instance, are you aware that she initially rose to prominence as a member of a radical pro-life organization known for praying outside abortion clinics? Or that her time in Congress has included protests of such hot-button issues  as choosing a light bulb and the constitutionality of taking a U.S. Census? Or that she proposed an in-depth analysis of the members of Congress to discover, “are they pro-American or anti-American?” That is mildly disconcerting at best, and eerily reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy, at worst.

Yet, despite her history of being uncompromising and antagonistic, she is considered a frontrunner for the Republican nomination. In divisive times like these, that hardly seems prudent. So why is she finding success?

The answer is simple: She’s charismatic. And there is a very legitimate chance that this charisma will carry her all the way to the White House.

Charisma is the reason former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin enjoys such rampant popularity despite an egregiously succinct political resumé. It’s also the reason representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Texas) struggles to get his name heard. The other was the governor of a sparsely-populated state for three years and is better known for a handful of wacky quotes. One of them has more than 35 years of political experience and is known as a brilliant economic mind in the world of fiscal conservatism. But, the former is about as enthralling as a dust mite, while the latter radiates brighter than a star.

The same sort of voter behavior is also observed in other levels of elections too: from state to municipal all the way down to the collegiate level.

Last year, while watching the platform speech for Owl Future, I had a hard time focusing. It’s not that what they were saying was unimportant–it simply was not captivating.

However, when I clicked play for the TU Nation video and heard “free SEPTA tokens,” you better believe they had my attention. Lo-and-behold, TU Nation won the election. And lo-and-behold, I’ve been buying my own tokens to get to work.

Welcome to the injustices of American politics.

To be clear, the plague of overemphasis on charisma is not strictly a republican phenomenon. History is abound with wide-smiling democrats upsetting more seasoned, but less personable foes.

The most memorable example is the iconic 1960 Kennedy-Nixon televised presidential debate. While radio listeners believed Nixon had clearly won, the television audience overwhelmingly supported the dashing John F. Kennedy over his sweaty rival.

Rather than contemplate any of this, Americans get distracted by questions like, “Which candidate would I rather have a beer with?”

Now experience doesn’t necessarily correlate to success, nor should likeability be interpreted as an automatic condemnation. But, there is certainly something positive to be said for an official who has a history of working in politics and fostering the necessary relationships to get something done. Electing polarizing candidates serves to strengthen divisions between the parties.

The question then becomes how best to close the gap between the most intelligent and experienced politicians and the American people.

The most plausible solution requires both the voters and qualified candidates to compromise, moving toward the middle. Voters definitely need to be better educated about their choices, but at the same time, how is a voter supposed to feel passionately about a candidate who spends most of their time preaching about the benefits of lowering tariff rates without explaining how that benefits the voters?

If voters abandon common denominator methods of analyzing candidates in favor of a more critical assessment, it would make all the difference in the world of our political system. Finally, we would stop focusing on the minutia in favor of the big picture. And maybe people who think “The Lion King” is gay propaganda would be sources of comedy rather than legitimate POTUS possibilities.

Zachary Scott can be reached at

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