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Barack Obama and the case for charisma

Charisma is more than a way with words and an attractive face. It's about inspiring America to greatness again.

scott wallace -staff

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Among this season's presidential candidates, Barack Obama has clearly had the edge when it comes to that magical quality known as charisma. Pundits of every political stripe have commented on Senator Obama's "rock-star quality." After meeting him, even the most jaded political reporters have been known to report that he is something rare and special, the heir to such charismatic predecessors as John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

In each generation, a few public figures come along who have a personal magnetism that makes strangers care deeply about them. Call it star power, call it charisma, this infrequent gift is akin to the power that great actors have.

According to legend, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was introduced to Orson Welles, he said graciously: "You know, Mr. Welles, you are the greatest actor in America." "Oh, no, Mr. President," Welles replied, "You are." What Welles recognized in Roosevelt is that political leadership is a performance art as surely as is acting on stage or in films.

When charismatic politicians such as Obama speak, they are able to turn a room full of strangers into a community rich in shared meaning, just as a great actor creates such a community within a theater. Whether such rock-star politicians talk about change or healthcare policy, they articulate a vision that those in the audience quickly make their own.


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