Today the Supreme Court ruled that businesses and unions can spend their own money on political ads endorsing or opposing a candidate. This raises a question I have long wondered about: how effective are political ads?

Do you really base who you are going to vote for on what ads on TV say? If  there are a lot of people who are that gullible, the Nation is doomed no matter what the Supreme Court rules on this issue. Seriously, I can barely remember any ads from the last Presidential campaign. And I’m fairly confident that my decision was not swayed by them one way or another.

I can’t speak for most people on this issue. And let’s face it; if you’ve brainwashed someone correctly, they’ll swear up and down they were not brainwashed. So I can’t be sure the ads didn’t affect me. 

A friend of mine was telling me that the real danger here is that corporations will disguise the ads to look like authentic news broadcasts–like is sometimes done in infomercials. This will confuse people into believing they’re watching a unbiased newscast that’s saying “Candidate X eats babies.”

I don’t buy it. The only people stupid enough to fall for that are probably already watching their favorite propaganda network (Fox news or MSNBC) anyway. Their votes are locked in. The swing voters aren’t, for the most part, dumb enough to be tricked like that.

Over at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism, Alicia Colon wonders if George W. Bush is the most reviled President ever.  She says she hasn’t done enough research yet. I can help her there.

No, he isn’t. Neither is Lincoln, as she speculates. It’s Richard M. Nixon. 

Why, you ask? Because he’s almost the picture in the dictionary next to anti-charisma.

…is fun to read once you understand the “charisma theory”. Paul Graham’s excellent essay on charisma is worth reading just for the description of how shallow most election analysis is. 

With regard to Scott Brown’s election, I’ve heard the following explanations:

  • Democrats were too Liberal
  • Democrats were not Liberal enough.
  • The economy is bad, so voters took it out on Coakley.
  • Americans are making a stand against Socialism!
  • Coakley ran a bad campaign.

The last is true, but the reason it was a bad campaign is because when you’re that uncharismatic everything you do seems to suck.

The charisma gap is, I’m convinced, the sole reason for this outcome.

I define anti-charisma as a phenomenon that causes the unlucky bearer to inspire an instinctively hostile reaction in others. If an anti-charismatic person says “Yes we can!”, the response is “You’re not the boss of me.”
Anti-charisma doesn’t seem to be as well analyzed as charisma, but here is my unscientific list of  a few prominent people who I believe have it.

  • Dick Cheney
  • Richard Nixon
  • Bill Belichick 
  • John Kerry
  • Al Gore

Most of them are politicians–Kerry and Gore largely unsuccessful ones, Cheney only successful by joining with a charismatic running mate, Nixon by avoiding debates with other candidates. Belichick, despite being the best active NFL coach, inspires none of the admiration in the national media or fans in general that is expressed for lesser coaches.
The reason I bring this up is because Martha Coakely looks destined to join them on this list. One of the hallmarks, in my opinion, of anti-charisma is that mistakes the anti-charismatic person makes tend to have greater impact than they really warrant, and Coakley is no exception. Whereas Obama could be forgiven for saying he’d been in 57 states, Coakley is mocked far more aggressively for a campaign ad in which “Massachusetts” was misspelled.
Then there are personal factors such as appearance and voice. This ad is a textbook example of a charismatic voice vs. an anti-charismatic one. And Nixon provided a legendary illustration  of what a difference looks make.
To be continued…

Ed Schultz says he’d cheat to win the Massachusetts senate race. Of course, one of the first rules of cheating is not to say “I’m going to cheat now”, so Schultz would seem to be a lousy “dirty tricks” man.

Also, of course, people are more likely to cheat for a charismatic candidate. It’s much harder to make them cheat for an un-charismatic one.

Republicans are already saying that Coakley’s inevitable loss to Brown is a referendum on Obama’s policies. Democrats are saying that she was just a lousy candidate, and Obama’s and the DNC’s policies have nothing to with it.

Based on the charisma theory, I’d have to say the Democrats are right. But there is a problem here: if charisma is so important, how is it that Coakley got the nomination in the first place? As we have seen, she defeated an apparently more charismatic opponent. How can this be reconciled with the theory?

First of all, it must be made clear that Capuano isn’t much more charismatic than Coakley is. If he had Obama-level charisma, this would be a different story.  Second of all, I speculate that charisma becomes a bigger factor the more important an election is perceived to be. In primaries, for a seat that is considered won by X party candidate by default, it matters less, because people don’t even care enough to really investigate the candidates even enough to find out who has charisma. At that level, it’s the close–almost personal–supporters of Martha Coakley and Michael Capuano, not their party or really even any ideology.

Once a campaign takes on an aura of extreme importance, it changes things. Epic struggles and charismatic people complement each other beautifully. If Barack Obama had lent all his personal charisma to the cause of arguing eloquently for, say, fixing potholes in Chicago, it’d be comical. That’s why, as the book Game Change documents, so many Democrats wanted him to run for President. I speculate that charisma doesn’t just help a person get involved in great events, it almost demands them to.

Oddly, however, you can’t lend your charisma to someone else by means of an endorsement. Obama’s campaigning for Creigh Deeds is proof of this. Having someone charismatic testify on your behalf just… doesn’t seem to work. I don’t know why. All sending Obama to help Coakley does, I think, is demonstrate how important the election is.

And that plays right into Brown’s hands.

via The Daily Dish:

“Here is congressman Capuano from Cambridge, rejected in favor of the tired, useless hack, Coakley:”

He does seem more passionate than Coakley. But there’s still no charisma there. And, quite frankly, shallow though it is, looks matter if you want to win an election, and Brown is better-looking than Capuano. 

He might’ve put up a better fight, but I doubt he’d win.

…if the charisma theory holds, anyway.



I’ll grant this is not a perfect comparison, but, c’mon, she speaks like a robot in that video. Brown is by no means stunningly charismatic like Obama, but he totally has what it takes to beat her out in this race. To make matters even worse, he seems to have gotten off that killer blow: the signature line: “It’s the people’s seat”. And he’s good-looking. And he was an actor. And he is running against the incumbent party. This spells disaster for the Democrats. And no, Obama campaigning for Coakley will not help, because charisma is not transferable
.
At this point, it would be a Truman-beating-Dewey level upset if Coakley won.