Friday, November 13, 2009

The Changing Winds of Charisma

History is replete with the vagaries of politicians who are feted and lambasted with the winds of change. "…The British public did not see Winston Churchill as a charismatic leader in 1939, but a year later, his vision, confidence and communications skills made him charismatic in the eyes of the British people, given the anxieties they felt after the fall of France to the Nazis and the Dunkirk evacuation. Yet by 1945, when the public turned from winning the war to building the welfare state, Churchill was voted out of office. His charisma did not predict his defeat. The change in voters' needs was a better predictor (Nye 2008, para 6)." These sentiments are echoed within James Madison's Federalists Papers, # 57. Under this guise, human nature cut both ways. On one hand the people would elect representatives to be stewards for their interests. On the other hand, the ego and self-interest of the politician would keep him aligned with his constituency to gain re-election.

Charisma is effective in connecting a politician to the emotional security of voters, but ultimately, politicians must effectively meet the needs of constituents. This back and forth does make logical sense for public policy in conjunction with the nuance of human nature. It is the astute politician who uses charisma to skew favor to his side. Understandably, there will be times when a principled politician won't be able to satisfy the needs of his collective constituency. Being adroit and adept at saying "no," but allowing it to go down easily is the hallmark of effective politicking. This is the advantage charismatic politicians have over adversaries. The ability to use charisma as a tool to strategically ensconce difficult policies within the soft belly of visceral and practical realities. If played well within the media, such maneuvers suggest that the politician is "getting things done." Even when policies act unfavorably to some constituents, this won't necessarily be a deal- breaker, because constituents know when a line has been drawn between their individual greed and the overarching interests of a collective agenda.


Nye, J. (2008 May 6). The mystery of political charisma. Wall Street Journal.

Related: Charisma

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