The Magazine

No We Can’t

Obama’s vanishing charisma

Mar 8, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 24 • By JOHN H. CHETTLE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Founding Fathers lived in a period when charisma as we know it hadn’t been invented, yet they designed a system that could hardly be more hostile to charismatic government. With their checks and balances, their power ranged against power, their suspicion of unchecked authority, their deliberative process, they seem to have foreseen the perils of charisma. They understood the dangers of “short-lived mass emotion” to which democracies have always been exposed.

It is a reassuring conclusion. If President Obama is to achieve any portion of his objectives, he will have to do it the old-fashioned way, by persuasion, by negotiation, by a focus on the attainable—yes, even by Harry Reid’s horse-trading—and not by charisma. 

John H. Chettle is a former Washington lawyer who teaches history and is writing a book entitled What Do Presidents Read? And Why It Matters.


Recent Blog Posts