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.

Alex Pareene at Salon writes about the late President Reagan’s interest in alien life-forms and UFOs, noting:

“Ronald Reagan claimed to have seen UFOs on at least two occasions, according to reports from sources as disparate as the Wall Street Journal, Lucille Ball and the National Enquirer. He alerted the Navy to one of his sightings, and he and Nancy believed that Egyptian hieroglyphics referenced extraterrestrial flying crafts.

Pareene then goes on to contrast this with Reagan’s well-known attitude of indifference towards the AIDS epidemic. It’s rather horrible to read about, really.  But what I want to focus on in this post is the considerably less-important first bit.

Perhaps the most curious thing about this is that Reagan isn’t the only politician to have allegedly run into some UFOs in his time. His predecessor, President Carter, also filed a report that he had witnessed a UFO in 1969. And the man thought to have laid the groundwork for Reagan’s popularity, Senator Barry Goldwater, was also interested in the topic. He believed that the government was not releasing information concerning extraterrestrial life-forms.

“So what?”, you ask. Well, frankly, I assume it means nothing; Carter and Reagan probably just saw some airplanes or clouds, and Goldwater was probably willing to believe all sorts of things if they showed the government in a bad light. But it is nonetheless sort of strange, (if unimportant) in my opinion.

And if you think I can get through this subject without a passing reference to “Citizen Kang” from The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror VIIyou’re wrong.

[Although I know it will make no difference to anybody, I feel oddly compelled to write about this.]

The late President Ronald Reagan’s son Michael claims his father was “better” for African-Americans than President Obama is. He reasons:

“Under Obama, black unemployment rose from 12.6 percent in January 2009 to 16.0 percent today. This means that black unemployment has increased by more than one-fourth since Obama took office.

And the Reagan record? African-American columnist Joseph Perkins has studied the effects of Reaganomics on black America. He found that, after the Reagan tax cuts gained traction, African-American unemployment fell from 19.5 percent in 1983 to 11.4 percent in 1989.”

Alright, this practically refutes itself. He is comparing two years of a deep downturn in the business cycle (a recession) under Obama and from which we only started recovering in summer 2009 to six years of a recovery from a (milder) recession which ended in late 1982. (He could have at least started from the beginning of Reagan’s term for a better comparison.)

It seems to me fairly obvious that these statistics regarding African-American employment are nothing more than the products of broad economic trends, rather than the outcome of a particular policy on the part of either President.

It’s a pet peeve of mine that the President, whoever he happens to be, always gets undue credit or blame for the fluctuations in the business cycle which he cannot come even close to fully controlling.

As a follow-up to this post, I realized that I neglected to mention another President who made use of appearing on entertainment television, or at least was not hurt by it: Ronald Reagan.

Sarah Palin herself made note of this fact, arguing against those who say it’s not Presidential to star in a reality show by noting that Reagan had been an actor, and had appeared in some not-especially-Presidential films.

Fair point, I suppose. And Reagan, like Palin and unlike Nixon, had charisma, which made it seem acceptable. (I have a theory that all actors, even lousy ones, have high levels of charisma compared to the general population.) There is, it seems, little which charisma cannot overcome.

On the other hand, Reagan quit working as an actor in 1965, 15 years before he became President. As Peggy Noonan writes as a rebuke to Palin:

“Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.”

These qualifications do seem rather more than Palin’s. (As an aside, it’s hard to imagine any artists-turned-union-leaders running for the Republicans nowadays.)

In the end, though, it goes back to the idea that our standards that have changed with time. Reagan was considered an intellectual lightweight in his day and age, as Palin is in the present day. Call me a pessimist if you like, but I believe this is due to a decline in what we expect of our politicians. If someone with Palin’s credentials had tried to run in Reagan’s time, imagine the reaction. P M Prescott‘s comment here says it very well: “The electorate is getting more and more into voting as fans of someone famous, even if it’s famous for being famous.”

And if Reagan’s charisma and celebrity overcame his relative lack of real policy credentials, then what is there to stop Palin’s charisma and celebrity from overcoming hers?

P.S. Incidentally, having read Noonan’s argument that Reagan’s time as SAG President helped him as a politician, I find that I cannot resist quoting these rather prescient lines of Ernest’s song “Were I a King” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke:

“Oh, the man who can rule a theatrical crew,
Each member a genius (and some of them two),
And manage to humour them, little and great,
Can govern this tuppenny State!”

I know a lot of people are thinking it makes her look foolish, but in my opinion, the way Sarah Palin handles the whole “writing-on-hand” thing is absolutely ingenious. Very much the sort of thing humorous touch Ronald Reagan would have used. It’s easy to see how it must appeal to her base, especially compared with the stiff formality of alleged GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. (Who, I just realized, reminds me disturbingly of Henry Leland from Alpha Protocol.)

The old Karl Rove strategy was to attack your opponent’s perceived strength. The Palin strategy is to turn your own perceived weakness into a strength.

Says the great British atheist: “She [Sarah Palin] has got no charisma of any kind.”

It is said that women become more attractive the more thoroughly drunk you are. Apparently, this isn’t working for Hitchens.

Kidding aside, you have to be crazy if you think Palin has no charisma. I mean, I can understand maybe not seeing the charisma yourself; after all, I can’t see what was so appealing about Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. But I can clearly see that they had charisma. I mean, you just don’t get that many people that excited about you unless you have charisma.

Likewise, I assume lots of conservatives don’t “get” Obama’s charisma, but no one could reasonably deny that he has it. It’s why he’s President and John Kerry isn’t.

“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.

It is common among President Obama’s critics to say that he is a Socialist. The evidence for this claim rests upon his administration’s expansion of government spending, as well as Obama’s infamous line to the so-called “Joe the Plumber” that he would like to “spread the wealth around.” This, combined with the standard Democratic party platform of welfare and general reliance on the Federal government, forms the basis for their case.

And, in the very broadest sense, they’re right. Obama’s philosophy seems to me to be, at its least redistributionist, one of Utilitarianism, which in my opinion is inevitably Socialistic in practice if not in theory. To say otherwise requires a narrow definition of Socialism. Nor does the fact that his critics themselves have in mind a particular brand of Socialism that may not in fact be Obama’s refute their basic claim.

 Now, it is true that most of the people charging this do not understand the definition under which Obama can most certainly be described as a Socialist. If they did, the charge would lose much of its sting. Indeed, much of the cries of “Socialism” seem to simultaneously suggest Obama is a Marxist or, more broadly, a Communist. But these are not the same as Socialism, and it is inaccurate to describe Obama’s policies as such.

Among Obama’s supporters, it is common to point out that expansions of the Federal government also occurred under George W.Bush, and that there were no outcries of Socialism then. This, they say, proves the case that the accusations of Socialism are in fact simply attempts to scare people. In my view, it actually shows a truth that neither side would likely care to admit: that Bush was also a socialist, though of a different flavor than Obama.

The easiest way to describe the difference between each man’s socialism is to say that Obama’s is an international Socialism, whereas Bush’s was National Socialism. Regrettably, describing it thus will inevitably lead to associations with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), often abbreviated as “Nazi”. Understand that I have absolutely no intention of describing Bush (or Obama) as a Nazi. Their brands of socialism are nothing like Nazism. A better term might be “American-exceptionalist Socialism”.

Bush’s socialism was also closely intertwined with his professed Christian faith. Much of the government’s power under Bush was focused on carrying out tasks that were associated with the Christian right. And these policies are as Socialist as any others which seek to use government power to impose a philosophy on the people of a country.

Likewise, it must also be said that while the redistribution policies may not have increased much under Bush, they did not cease altogether. Likewise, the tax-cuts he implemented notwithstanding, Bush did not fundamentally change the socialistic nature of the U.S. government, and, in his own way, enhanced it.

Finally, Bush initiated the use of military force in an effort that is, all but technically, a war. War is a fundamentally Socialist undertaking. For a successful war effort to be made, the power of the State must be increased. That Bush and his Administration appears to have been unwilling to admit this fact does not disprove it. Furthermore, Bush’s attempt at waging a “capitalistic” war through the use of private security contractors and the effort to avoid actually paying for it proves the Socialistic nature of War by its very failure. And, in what is shaping up to be the defining issue of the administration, it expanded the power of the government to encroach on what were hitherto considered rights of private citizens in the interests of defending National Security. (The “greater good” that is at the core of all Socialist thought.)

The true Capitalism, of, say, Ayn Rand, is a philosophy which tells its adherents to enrich themselves through production of goods and trade. This is a philosophy to which war is indeed alien. A successful war is waged only by making the Individual sacrifice for the sake of the Team. Similarly, no True Capitalist would engage in “faith-based initiatives” and foreign aid, as Bush did.

Hence, Bush’s brand of Socialism differed from Obama’s in that (1) It placed more emphasis on the use of governmental power for the purposes of advancing the religious beliefs prevalent in the administration and (2) it encouraged the United States to act unilaterally in advancing its interests.

Nor was Bush’s Socialism a fundamental shift in the American philosophy of government. The American government has been, at least since FDR, a socialist one. So too have been all subsequent Presidents, except perhaps Ronald Reagan. And even if Reagan was indeed a Capitalist, he did not change the nature of the government.

Now, it is true that, generally speaking, Republicans are less like stereotypical Socialists then Democrats. The Republicans obviously prefer to cut taxes, and profess to believe in smaller government, less government intervention in matters of business. On the surface, at least, it would seem that they are right to claim they are not economically socialist like the Democrats.

Yet, there are still divides in the party, even in the matter of business. Many Republicans support the criminalization of drugs such as Marijuana. This not a pro-business move. Indeed, it means the use of tax dollars to suppress a substance that people take for pleasure. One can imagine the outcry if Democrats proposed similar measures for, say, soda or alcoholic beverages. The libertarian wing of the party may object; but the fact remains that many Republicans support this anti-capitalistic behavior.

Thus, while it is justifiable to claim that Obama is a socialist, it is nonetheless very remiss to pretend that his philosophy is a “new” or “alien” one to the way America has for some time behaved. He may be more of an internationalist than has been previously seen, but this itself is an unremarkable development. The trend of globalization to some extent necessitates that existing socialistic codes evolve to account for this.

In closing, I must note that government inherently attracts Socialists to it, and the power granted to those in government must, I think, encourage the Socialistic tendencies in all people. Individualists do not seek office. “All world-improvers are Socialists” wrote Spengler. I have always interpreted this comment to mean not that all who actually do improve the world are socialists, but rather that all who believe themselves to know what is best for all people are socialists. And it is just such people, whether from the Republican party or the Democratic party, who seek office.

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.

So, I was reading the following article:
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:

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:

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?