For several years, every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, my sister has regaled me with stories about Dancing With The Stars, which is not just her favorite television show, it’s actually the only show she watches. For those unfamiliar with DWTS, the premise is simple: every season, a group of TV stars, singers, athletes, models, etc., is paired with the show’s stable of professional dancers. The guests are taught a couple of ballroom dances, and let loose on the dance floor. The same pattern gets repeated week after week, with the show turning into an elimination game that sees the lowest scoring dancer (based on judges’ scores and audience call-ins) being let go each week. The season ends with the top three dancers facing off against each other.
After fighting against it for a while, I gave in, watched the show, and enjoyed it. DWTS has a wonderful “getting it right” trajectory, one that sees people who have never danced before, or never danced ballroom before, getting better before your eyes. By the end of the ten-week season, the last three guests remaining actually look like dancers, rather than like robots who have mastered steps.
The most recent season, which concluded just this Tuesday, had an unusually good group of guests. By season’s end, the three remaining really were head-to-head in terms of “who would have expected it?” dancing talent. These three were William Levy, a Cuban refugee, model, and Telemundo star; Katherine Jenkins, a very beautiful, blonde, Welsh classical singer trained at the Royal Academy of Music; and Donald Driver, a Green Bay Packers football player who helped propel his team to a Superbowl victory. William Levy sold sex (woo!), Katherine Jenkins sold precision, and Donald Driver sold himself.
Here’s sex (with the dance starting around 3 minutes in, although the Cuban refugee story preceding it is fairly interesting):
And here’s charisma, with a bit of raw muscle thrown in for good measure:
Interestingly, even though Donald Driver is the only non-performer of the three, he sells it! The other two, who are both stage professionals (one acting, one singing) lacked his star power. Driver, as you may already have heard, won the mirror ball trophy. I was not surprised, despite the fact that, when it came to dancing qua dancing, he was probably the least good of the three. With very little to distinguish the three, personality was the trump card.
I’ve long been fascinated by that elusive, intangible, yet very real charm that is charisma. I’ve written here before about the most handsome man I’ve ever met, whose face I cannot remember. What I actually remember is his charm. I was a pretty, blonde 18-year old in Israel for the first time. My Mom’s friend had a 25-year old son who took one look at me and said, “Would you like to come to a party with me?” “Sure,” I replied. He called the host, squared things away, and off we went. When we got there, the host greeted me at the door as if I was the most important, interesting, gorgeous person he’d ever met. “I’m so glad you came,” he said, drawing me into the room. I was glad too. He made me feel precious, special, and treasured. He had charisma. I don’t remember his face, but my heart knows he was gorgeous.
Charisma in the political world can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes, it lands one with a great leader, such as Reagan. Other times, that same elusive charm sees people electing a huckster to the White House — someone like Clinton, for example. Even Clinton’s enemies couldn’t deny his warmth and charm. Clinton may have been grossly narcissistic and corrupt, but he genuinely likes people and wants them in his orbit. He was then and still is a most likable bad boy.
Obama is an interesting thing. The 2008 showed that he had the power of the true demagogue, but I’m not sure so about the charisma. I never saw it. Unlike Clinton, who actually likes people, Obama does not. He’s a performer, rather than a truly charismatic human being. If he stays on script (memorized and teleprompted speeches) and if he has a publicity department to shore him up (the MSM), he sells a simulacrum of charisma, one that, in 2008, was enough to charm a population that was looking for the un-Bush, and that was decidedly bored with the completely uncharismatic John McCain.
The problem for Obama is that winning the election meant he had to get off the stage. Since he was faking the charm, the same audiences who cheered and fainted, were suddenly presented with a much less likable version of the man. Watching Obama over the last few years has been precisely the same as watching a commercial in which the actor, having charmingly announced “I’m not a real charismatic politician, but I play one on TV,” steps off the set and starts screaming at his fellow cast members and the crew, as he wipes off the thick stage magic that hid his acne scars.
Over the years, Obama has proven himself ignorant (Austrian language, it’s wrong for businesses to be set up to “maximize profit,” “corpse”-men, etc.), mean (“I won,” “You’re likeable enough, Hilary,” police acted “stupidly,” find out “whose ass to kick,” etc.), inarticulate, and generally not the golden boy the media sold to American audiences back in 2008. That’s okay. The nature of a demagogue is that he’s deeply flawed, in an antisocial way. Obama’s problem is that he’s not selling himself. He doesn’t deliver insults with a charming smile. He doesn’t giggle about his gaffes, as Johnny Carson so wonderfully did:
Obama’s many fails come from a deep reservoir of anger and ignorance, and there is no smiling that will cover it up.
So, on the Democrat side of the slate we have one singularly charmless candidate.
What’s interesting is that the Republicans also have a candidate who lacks charisma. I like Romney. His is a personal history of hard work and good deeds. He’s a hugely successful ordinary guy. The media demonizes his law-abiding success (which, in a normal world, would be a good thing) and heaps scorn upon his social ordinary-ness.
Sadly, the dinosaur drive-by media still has enough power to convince voters that the perfectly ordinary, very nice Mitt Romney — the kind of guy you’d love to have as a friend and neighbor — is a boring, goofy, bully. What will be interesting is to see whether that same drive-by media can also convince voters that the self-involved, cold, cutting, ignorant Barack Obama — the kind of guy who is reviled in a small community — is the same charismatic golden boy who ran for and won the presidency in 2008.
There is no Donald Driver here — a good all around guy, with buckets of character. Instead, all we’ve got are here are two ordinary men (although I’d argue that Mitt is substantially smarter than Barry), with extremely different histories and world views. One therefore has to ask, in an election in which both candidates lack that magical, elusive charm that is charisma, will the media be able to dismiss one nice, bright, accomplished guy as a boring nonentity, while building up the other, not-so-very nice guy, as the great charmer, deserving of the great American mirror ball trophy?