I liked Bill Clinton’s speech last night.  He did a good job of using his charisma to package the use of actual numbers and statistics in his speech.  It seems to me that politicians nowadays prefer to rely more and more on clever turns of phrase, rather than actual facts and figures to get their points across.  Clinton certainly had some one-liners, but he also gave some pretty involved  explanations of things.  I especially liked his observation that  “Today, interest rates are low, lower than the rate of inflation. People are practically paying us to borrow money”.

I am still not a fan of saying the stimulus “created or saved” jobs, which he did at least once.  That sounds like weasel words, and even though I assume the “saved” idea is based on models and projections of the economy without the stimulus,  those are still just models, and it feels shady to take credit for preventing something you assume would have happened.  They should stick with just “created”.

All in all, though, a very good speech.

A new Gallup poll puts Ronald Reagan as the nation’s greatest President. Then it’s Lincoln, Clinton, Kennedy, Washington and FDR.

Yes, in that order.

My opinion: Lincoln, Washington and FDR are the only ones out of that crowd who could conceivably have any claim to the title of “greatest President”. And where is Eisenhower? I mean, maybe he wasn’t the greatest President ever, but he ought to have been in the running.

Also, George H. W. Bush should have gotten more votes than George W. Bush, in my opinion. Finally, I think President Obama shouldn’t even be eligible for this poll yet, since he’s currently President and we have yet to see what he’ll do the rest of his term and if he’ll win re-election.

In my last post, I mentioned Marco Rubio and this idea that he is the Republican’s answer to Obama. Having watched his CPAC speech, I have to say I’m not terribly impressed. Sure, he’s sort of good-looking and fairly witty, but he doesn’t seem to have that intangible charisma that Obama, Clinton and Reagan all do. He sounded–and this is my opinion only–sort of whiny and weak. He seemed, at times, like he was whimpering.

Still, I wouldn’t write him off on the basis of this one speech, and he has many good qualities, but I just don’t see him as capable of going up against Obama.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

“The President’s changes in antiterror policy have never been as dramatic as he or his critics have advertised. His supporters on the left have repeatedly howled when the Justice Department quietly went to court and offered the same legal arguments the Bush Administration made, among them that the President has the power to detain enemy combatants indefinitely without charge. He has also ramped up drone strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan.


However, the Administration has tried to break from its predecessors on several big antiterror issues…”

(Italics mine.)

Maybe I’m crazy, but the italicized portion seems to be implying that this is in keeping with Bush’s policies, when, in fact it is a break from them. “Ramping up” means changing the policy. It’s not as drastic, I admit, but nevertheless Obama and Bush are not the same when it comes to the drone policy. Obama is more aggressive. This probably part of the reason Obama’s track record vs. Jihadism compares favorably with G.W. Bush’s and Clinton’s over their first terms.

…is what the Republicans say the Democrats are.

First of all, why is this news? The Republicans always say that. Second, while his policies seem to be weaker, Obama’s track record against Jihadism compares favorably with George W. Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s after their respective first years in office. 

I’ll agree his position on torture seems naive, and his foolish decision not to fire Napolitano immediately after the December 25th failed attack ought to be ridiculed. But these apparent flaws cannot negate his success in objective terms. The arguments against trying terrorists in civilian court are, in my opinion, fairly weak. 

As of this moment, the case against Obama himself as weak on terror is basically a joke. Now, the case against the Democrats in Congress, particularly Harry Reid, is a much better one. Reid is a weak person by nature, and his infamous assertion that the Iraq war was “lost” is one that should haunt him. 

The Democrats overall philosophy intuitively seems to be weaker, but that is not backed up by the data.

So, I was reading the following article:
http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/safox/2009/12/16/che-guevara-hollywoods-mass-murdering-phenom/
And it set me thinking about something I’ve read and pondered a lot: The importance of charisma.

Frankly, I have no idea if any of what this person says about Guevara is true or not. But the point is, if he weren’t so damn charismatic, his picture wouldn’t be all over those t-shirts. Charisma seems to me to be a very big, if not the no. 1, factor that determines a person’s success in many fields.

Here’s the first essay I read on this subject, by a guy who is smarter than I am:
http://www.paulgraham.com/charisma.html

Graham’s essay has influenced my thinking on this issue, and, I think, gives an excellent assessment of charisma, though his conclusion about charisma canceling out doesn’t seem to be working. (See McCain v. Obama, 2008)

First of all, it seems like looks have a lot to do with charisma.  (Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, discussed the importance of superficial factors in determining the winner of Presidential elections. He pointed out that “the tall guy with the best hair usually wins.”) I think that part of it is that youthful vigor lends itself to charisma, part of it is that people are superficial, and tend to trust good-looking people more.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t explain how, for example, Ronald Reagan was able to defeat Carter and Mondale, as whatever created his charisma, it surely wasn’t youthfulness.

It might be good, at this point, to see what a totally unreliable internet source thinks are charismatic people:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_charismatic_leaders_as_defined_by_Max_Weber’s_classification_of_authority

This list does seem to match up fairly well with people who I would consider charismatic and who demonstrated great ability to mobilize people to do their bidding.

(As an aside, I note that there are way fewer women on the list than men. One possibility is that women simply weren’t allowed in positions of power until relatively recently, and so many charismatic women were passed over.)

It’s important to note, if we take this list to be true, that charisma appears to be completely independent of ideology or even morality. This is all the more important because some have argued that charisma is not something which can be learned; rather, it is innate. There is some supporting anecdotal evidence for this claim in such cases as Charles Manson’s cult, wherein an obviously insane individual was nonetheless able to use charisma to control his followers.

The best case I can think of for charisma being learned is probably Ronald Reagan. I suspect that being an actor helps you at that sort of thing. But people like Manson and Guevara seem to argue against this (Manson, particularly, seems unlikely to have learned anything.)

Another argument against it being a skill one can learn is the sad case of Hillary Clinton. She knew she had everything else required to beat Obama except charisma, she had a husband who had charisma, and she had more time to prepare to use it than Obama. And yet, she still couldn’t learn to do it, despite every opportunity.

 So, is charisma learned, or is it innate? And which would be worse?