National Review praises Sarah Palin:

“During an episode of her reality show, the once (and future?) candidate cooked up a mess of hot s’mores and a side of even hotter politics, declaring: ‘This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.’

Palin was being over-generous in her paraphrase. What Mrs. Obama in fact said was considerably more worrisome: ‘We can’t just leave it up the parents’…. If her vision leaves any room for limitation on government interference in family affairs, it is impossible to detect it. Palin… later expanded on her views: ‘Instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us, according to some politician’s — or politician’s wife’s — priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us, as individuals, to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions.'”

National Review and Palin appear to have not realized that if your kids are in school, then they will be fed by the school. You can maybe send a lunch in with them, but some children–not that I suppose NR really cares about this–come from families who are too poor to do so. (Besides which, if the lunch is paid for by taxes, most people will probably wish to take advantage of it.) Therefore, unless you are actually opposed to the concept of school lunches, you must ask: do you want the school to feed them healthy food or unhealthy food?

If they were Libertarians, they might make the argument that we ought to abolish school lunches–and, for that matter, government schools–altogether. But they won’t make this argument here, because to do so makes them look, frankly, like unfeeling jerks to many people. So, they take the easy way out: griping about the system without actually putting forward an alternative system which might address the alleged problems.

(I should mention: although I am not a Libertarian, I was one in the past. And, perhaps out of a sentimental sympathy for some of their beliefs, I feel a need to make it clear that the Republicans of today are not really Libertarians; they just act like it sometimes to get what they want. This is not to say the Libertarians are right–which I obviously don’t believe–but rather in the interest of clarity in discourse.)

But I digress.

Now, if a parent wants to have this degree of control over their children, then they should not send the children to school. But, since many parents cannot (or in some cases, will not) actually educate, feed and care for their own children all day every day, they do send them off to school. And that carries with it certain costs and benefits. But essentially, what the National Review crowd wants is all the benefits of parental control with none of the costs.

But then, as they ought to know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

A few hours into BioWare‘s epic game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, there’s a scene involving a swoop-bike race between two gangs in the slums of a backwater planet. When the race is over, the leader of the losing gang decides that he will not allow the other gang’s racer to claim the prize. This prompts the guy in charge of the race to say something like: “You can’t back out now! It would violate all our most sacred traditions!”

Now, this line has always struck me as rather funny. I mean, it’s a race between two criminal gangs in the slums. Just how “sacred” could such an event be, I’ve always wondered.

I’ve thought of this scene more than once while reading about the pseudo-controversy involving Sarah Palin’s daughter on the program “Dancing With the Stars”. People are quite  indignant over the possibility that fans of all things Palin are compromising the integrity of a TV dancing competition. A damned silly thing to be upset about, if you ask me.

That said, it is irritating to me how the mainstream media insists on calling it a “conspiracy theory”. That makes it sound as if people pointing out that die-hard Palin supporters are voting for her daughter are roughly as credible as people who believe lizardmen are responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

The fact of the matter is that Palin fans freely admit voting “early and often”. Is it cheating? I don’t know; the stakes are so incredibly low that I don’t think it qualifies. (The only way it might matter is if there is major gambling involved, and if there were I would assume that ABC would already have better security for the voting.)

But like I said, how worked up can one get over this? I mean, it is somewhat scandalous that our politics are hopelessly intertwined with silly entertainment programs, but it’s been going this way for awhile, and seemingly with the consent of the population in general.

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!”

While running for President in 1968, Richard Nixon appeared on the show Laugh-In, a popular comedy show among young peopleThe results you may see above, with Nixon uttering one of show’s catchphrases.

Nixon’s opponent, Hubert Humphrey, declined an invitation to appear on Laugh-In, reasoning that it was much too undignified for a Presidential candidate to be on a low comedy show.

Lately, some political observers, such as Karl Rove, have claimed that the fact that Sarah Palin is now hosting/starring in a reality TV show suggests she is not a serious candidate for President. Jonathan Weiler at Huffington Post argues that Palin knows this, and doesn’t want to run for President, at least not in 2012, but instead wants to be an entertainment TV star. Perhaps this is so… but then again, what if it is a Nixon-on-Laugh-In type of strategy?

Now, there are at least two potential counter-arguments to this. The first is that there is a difference between appearing for four seconds to say a catchphrase and being the star of a reality show. The second is that Nixon’s Laugh-In appearance was–or at least could have been–beneficial because he was perceived as a dull, uptight man, too absorbed in policy to have personality. This is precisely the opposite of Palin’s problem.

The first objection neglects the change in the times–a four second appearance on a comedy show was roughly as shocking in 1968 as a Reality TV show appearance is today. The second objection is a fair one, and may be proven accurate with regard to Palin’s Presidential chances.

However, while thinking about this issue, I saw this exchange from the CNN show “Parker Spitzer”. You can watch the whole thing here, but I only want to point out this relevant quote from rabid Palin supporter John Ziegler, responding to a question about which media sources he thinks were responsible for what he considers the unfair character assassination of Palin:

“Actually, I believe it’s the entertainment shows, the comedy shows, that have way more influence. We saw that with the targeting, the destruction, the assassination of Sarah Palin in 2008. Who destroyed her? Tina Fey destroyed her, more than anybody else did.”  

As far as I know, Ziegler is not an adviser of any sort to Palin. But he is a supporter, and he has interviewed her, and has made a film that is highly sympathetic to her, and therefore it is not a stretch to suppose that his thinking reflects the thinking of the Palin camp generally.

And if Palin and her supporters believe her to have been unfairly attacked and slandered by the entertainment media, it would make perfect sense to try to inject a decidedly pro-Palin strain into that same entertainment media. Hence the reality show. (as well as her daughter’s appearance on the apparently popular “Dancing with the Stars”.)

Of course, this is all merely my observations of what may or may not be Palin’s strategy. I have no way of knowing if this is the idea; and anyway I am not even sure if it could work. No one really knows if Nixon’s appearance on Laugh-In helped him, though Humphrey thought it did. Certainly, I know that I do not base my voting decisions on what I see on entertainment and comedy shows. I assume that most other people don’t either.

Rob Reiner compares the Tea Party to the Nazis, and brings up the possibility of them having a charismatic leader. He says:

“My fear is that the tea party gets a charismatic leader… Because all they’re selling is fear and anger. And that’s all Hitler sold. ‘I’m angry and I’m frightened and you should hate that guy over there.’ And that’s what they’re doing.” 

Our Nazi-comparison-based political discourse and the importance of charisma are two of my favorite topics. So, with that in mind, I have to say first of all that Reiner is very wrong to make this comparison. The Tea Party is many things, all of which I believe to be wrong, but I really don’t think they want to commit genocide. The Nazi comparisons are uncalled for and foolish, in my opinion.

Now, as to the possibility of the Tea Party getting a charismatic leader: they already have at least one, possibly two. For a long time, I’ve thought that Sarah Palin is charismatic. And, more recently, it seems like Glenn Beck has emerged as their leader; and if you can think of some reason for that other than charisma, you’ve got me beat.

I have to admit: when I first heard about Christine O’Donnell, she seemed okay to me. So she was unemployed and spent all her time running for senate. “Good for her,” I thought, “lots of people are unemployed; it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.”

Then the witch thing was pretty weird, but again; one could argue that at least it shows a sort of open-mindedness which most liberal-leaning people tend not to expect from Republicans. Even in light of all her strange quotes, she still seems like a nice person to me, if a bit odd.

The thing is, (assuming I lived in Delaware, which I don’t) I wouldn’t vote for her based on the fact that she seems like a nice person. Yet, I have to assume that this is why her supporters are voting for her, in the absence of any actual track record.

And then this “I’m you” ad comes out, which I find very interesting indeed. Not because of what she says so much as the design of the ad; it’s not about policy but rather about emphasizing O’Donnell’s “likeability”. (Robert Stacy McCain, a conservative blogger and supporter of O’Donnell, has a good analysis that more or less agrees with mine.)

While it is true that representatives are indeed supposed to represent my interests, I do not believe that they need to be exactly like me to do so. I personally would prefer someone who explained why they were better at certain things than me.

That said, since this is much the same rhetoric used by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and other “Tea Party” leaders, I’m forced to conclude that it appeals to a lot of people.

This all goes back, I think, to the fundamental shift in American politics which I discussed in this post (and which was described much better than I could do by an Anonymous commenter on same post) and this post. People now seem to judge politicians more on their personality, appearance and affability than on their education, philosophy and policies.

I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say that Christine O’Donnell is a remarkably charismatic person (yet), but she is at least the result of the same phenomenon that drives the increasing power of charisma in the political system–it is not anything which she has specifically done that excites people, but rather her very personality.

Interesting piece by Charles Oakland at Conservatives4Palin about Sarah Palin’s charisma. More specifically, it’s an examination of just what charisma is and why Palin appears to have it. I am, of course, delighted to see other people discussing the phenomenon of charisma, as I have done so myself very often on this blog.

It’s piece worth reading, in my opinion, regardless of your views on either Sarah Palin or Mr. Oakland.* Putting the political aspects of the thing aside, it is a very interesting read, and touches on many of the same points I have in my ongoing blogging about charisma.

Having said all that, I have to confess that I’m shocked that one could write such a long article on the nature of charisma and not mention the work of Max Weber, who is probably the primary reason we have the word charisma today. But quite apart from that, Weber’s writings are indispensable for understanding the concept of charisma. As he described it, charisma is:

“…a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which one is “set apart” from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These as such are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as divine in origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.” 

No question, the religious origins of the word are indeed important, and Oakland is surely right to discuss it. But Weber has studied the implications of charisma with particular regard to politics, and therefore it is surely worth mentioning his efforts in an examination of a political figure’s charisma.

*For those readers who really don’t enjoy reading words of extreme adoration for Sarah Palin, you only have to read the article from the passage beginning: “As some readers know, my interests also include languages and biblical studies….”

Interesting article by David A. Love claiming that the group of female politicians Sarah Palin calls “mama grizzlies” are motivated by hatred of black people.

The problem I see with this article is principally that it assumes (as does almost everyone) that all attempts to paint President Obama as “foreign” are necessarily racist. I believe that, while that may be the driving force of some of those attacks, many of them are motivated by hatred of Obama’s internationalist outlook. He is, after all, something of a “Davos Man“.

Take, for instance, this passage:

 “One loony lady of the right uses the legal system as a platform to express their hatred of black people. Orly Taitz–a prominent figure in the insane asylum known as the birther movement, which claims President Obama is a foreigner–filed a series of lawsuits challenging the President’s citizenship.” 

First of all, Taitz isn’t part of the “Mama Grizzly” crew. Secondly, before proceeding, it is vital that I point out that Taitz is, by all appearances, hopelessly insane. But what I don’t think is proven is that she has a “hatred of black people.” After all, one of her many lawsuits claiming Obama isn’t a citizen was filed on behalf of Alan Keyes.  

But let us leave Taitz to her madness, and examine instead some of the more relevant women the article discusses. If true, the Sharron Angle story is indeed bizarre, and suggestive of a strange worldview. And Palin’s defense of Laura Schlessinger seems to me to be a very bad idea; so much so that one is forced to wonder about just what Palin’s motivations might be in doing so.

However, while these are good points, there is also this:

 “California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman refused to attend a forum of black and Latino churchgoers. And of the $50 million she has spent on radio, TV and print ads, not a penny went to black media. By contrast, the atypical GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina showed up at a Juneteenth event in South Central Los Angeles wearing a kente cloth.” 

Which is interesting, but omits the rather important fact that Palin endorsed Fiorina but, as best I can tell, not Whitman.

But where the article really runs into trouble, in my opinion, is with regard to Nikki Haley. The author says:

“I am stumped on this one, and can only assume that the fair-skinned Nikki Haley is popular because many South Carolina voters missed the memo, and actually think she is white.” 

Now, it is not unreasonable to suppose that most racists are stupid. But still, it strikes me as a bit of a stretch to say that they are so stupid as to allow someone from a race that they supposedly exist to oppress to become a prominent member of their movement. As such, Haley’s candidacy seems to me to argue somewhat against the Tea Party being a racist movement.

But race is always a dangerous and controversial issue, and I welcome any comments you may have on this.

Charles Oakland has posted an interesting piece over at Conservatives4Palin about leadership and the ability to inspire loyalty. He puts particular focus, naturally, on Sarah Palin and how, by virtue of everything she has achieved in her career, she has earned the loyalty of those she leads. It’s well-written, though it is slightly longer than War and Peace. (I kid, I kid. Read it, it’s worth your while.)

However, I think his overall point is wrong. Palin, whatever her accomplishments, does not inspire such loyalty because of them. Rather, she does so by the sheer force of her personality. Charisma, as I’ve said so many times, is the key to her leadership, as it is to President Obama’s as well.

This is not to deny her accomplishments, or Obama’s. Rather, I am saying that their accomplishments are irrelevant. I believe that the nature of charisma is such that they inspire loyalty because of who they are, not what they do or have done.