Charisma makes one look good, but good looks don’t make one charismatic.

R. Emmett Tyrrell of the Conservative site Newsbusters excitedly writes:

“So there are two. Two pulchritudinous ones, that is. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are very beautiful, and the feminists tell us, “So what?” Well, they never say “So what?” when an attractive male, usually a Democrat, comes onstage. They call him charismatic. Bachmann and Palin are sufficiently charismatic for me…”

I get Tyrrell’s underlying point: that people use “charismatic” as a euphemism for, essentially, “hot”. He’s right that this is a mistake, although I do not see why he thinks only feminists do it. Moreover, he seems almost to imply that this is all charisma is–a codeword.

Charisma and physical attractiveness are not at all the same thing. Lots of people who are not good-looking are charismatic, and plenty of good-looking people are uncharismatic. Indeed, I suspect that many of the politicians whom we consider “good looking” are actually just average, or a bit above. It is their charisma which lends them their appeal, not just their physical attractiveness.

It is true that looks are related to charisma, and that charismatic people look “better” than non-charismatic ones. Take the famous example of Kennedy vs. Nixon, or Obama vs. McCain, and there’s no doubt who wins the image war. But this is not just about looks per se, but about presenting an image that communicates qualities like youthfulness and vigor, like Kennedy and Obama presented against their seemingly “stodgy” opponents.

And for the record, I think Palin has considerably more charisma than Bachmann.

1 Comment

  1. I don't find either one charismatic. They are both good looking as everyone needs to point out.Maybe politicians should wear paper bags until an election is over so they will be judged on merit, rather than looks or charisma. I guarantee Mitt would be kicked out the door with his goofy attempts at trying to be "one of the guys." His latest joke was about also being unemployed. Good grief.Oops, rambling. : )

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