From the comments, on CEOs and candidates

by on September 19, 2015 at 12:33 am in Current Affairs, Political Science, Television, Uncategorized | Permalink

Licinius wrote:

Some thoughts from a pseudonymous political consultant:
1) The filter for politicians hardly selects for spontaneous television charisma at all until the very highest levels. Typically the types of offices one holds prior to being a Governor or a Senator (Congress, lesser statewide office, Mayor of a medium-sized but not too big city) are offices that select for skill-sets like working a room of a handful of insiders, and avoiding making mistakes; not spontaneously debating on camera. Let’s say at any given point in time there are 1,000 people in the country in one of these “feeder” offices (Congress, Statewide elected officials, mid-city mayors, etc).
2) Governor and Senator positions select a little bit more for charisma and media presence, but not much, and usually they only do so in big expensive contested Senate Races – not in the safe blue or safe red states that most Senators and Governors represent. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that no more than 50 out of 150 Governors and Senators were elected in the sorts of elections that test a person’s debating mettle and television presence. This doesn’t seem like a process where one is going to end up with tremendously charismatic TV personalities running for president. But it does pose an interesting puzzle, because it would seem to me that professional entertainers could wipe the floor with politicians.
3) Very rarely do celebrities or CEOs run for offices that are “to scale,” or things that they could easily win. If Carly Fiorina had run for an open Republican seat in Congress instead of Senate on her first shot, she’d be a shoo-in. Ben Affleck would be iffy for Senate, but he’d coast to a victory in Congress (and then Congressman Ben Affleck could easily rise up the ranks and build a political career from there, if he had the patience). When they do run for things that are “to scale” – like Kevin Johnson running for Mayor of Sacramento – they tend to win. When they do things not to scale – Chris Dudley running for Governor of Oregon – they tend to lose.
4) Being an entertainer/CEO is generally a better life than being a politician. This selects for second tier CEOs and entertainers running for office, not first tier ones. Al Franken was an entertaining guy, but he was hardly a first-tier celebrity prior to running for office. For him, running for Senate was a step up in status. For somebody like John Stewart or Stephen Colbert, not so much. Similarly, Bill Gates and Tim Cook have nothing to gain by running for office, so the businessperson candidates we get are generally not first-tier. No offense to Carly Fiorina, she has “succeeded” more than the vast majority of people ever will in her field, but she has dedicated her life singularly to making money, and there’s thousands of people who have done a better job than her. She’s the businessperson equivalent of a State Attorney General, not a Governor or a Senator. Trump fares a little better, but still, there are dozens of more successful businessmen in the U.S. than him. If you were to rank all the politicians in the U.S. in terms of electoral success, all the legitimate presidential contenders would be in the top 150. Would anybody make the case that Carly Fiorina is one of the top 150 businesspeople in the U.S.?
5) This leads to the interesting observation that CEOs and entertainers may be so much more talented at some aspects of charisma than politicians are that a C-list CEO or entertainer might still be more compelling than an A-list politician. And if an A-list entertainer or CEO ever decides to run for major office (like Arnold running for Governor), they’ll have a real shot at winning.

Here is what some Chinese thought of the candidates.  Here are comments from David Brooks.

1 Steve Sailer September 19, 2015 at 12:48 am

A few years ago, Poland had an identical twin Prime Minister and a President, until one was killed in that terrible plane crash. They had started out as child actors (twins are preferred for very young roles because they can be swapped out), starring in a classic Polish children’s movie in the early 1960s.

2 Ray Lopez September 19, 2015 at 1:59 am

What terrible plane crash? The one that was to mark the anniversary of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers, that Russia attended?

As for the filter, what is the filter to the filter? Is this filter merely being self-selected by TC and his followers?

An easier filter: stuff happens, and sometimes stars get elected. Remember, public speaking is an art (that I have mastered, yes, I won competitions in Toastmasters), and most actors don’t really know how to give a good live public speech. Their stuff on the screen is rehearsed and shot many times, often edited, before it is finalized. Exception: that pop music video by that dancing girl popular a few months ago that says ‘you take me higher, ohh, ahh…’ and features dancing in the street in Brooklyn. It was apparently shot on the first take, no jump cuts, unedited. Forget the name. Sorry, music is the area of expertise of my 20-something gf –half my age– not me.

3 John Boy September 19, 2015 at 1:58 am

Don’t forget Saint Reagan. He’s got a long list of credits, but he probably doesn’t qualify as an A-list actor.

He worked his way up, starting as president of SAG (screen actors guild) before running for government office.

4 carlospln September 19, 2015 at 2:28 am
5 E. Harding September 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Why link to a leftist hack piece, carlos?

6 An Onyx Mousse September 19, 2015 at 2:14 am

Being an A-list politician requires being at least decent at a bunch of things, including: 1) a reasonable grasp of policy issues 2) despite 1, being in touch with the average voters view of the world 3) willing to work to impress a lot of people you don’t respect 3) wanting and able to be liked by folks from many different walks of life from rich to working class without making gross social gaffes. (e.g. Romney could move in upper class circles but sounded like an ass to many working class folks, Sarah Palin vice versa) 5) caring enough about issues to be motivated to run but cold-blooded enough to horse trade and compromise to get things done.

The combination of traits, when you think about it, actually requires a fairly craven individual.

It’s not just making speeches, although that helps a lot. Thinking on your feet is kind of a bonus.

7 JStart September 19, 2015 at 11:31 am

Typical A-List considerations for Presidential candidates are the rankest nonsense of course.

In any reasonably objective look at practical qualifications for a genuine Chief Executive Officer & Head Administrative Manager of the vast U.S. Federal Government — none of the current candidates would make the top 100,000 list among U.S. citizens age 35+. (few elected Presidents would qualify either)

You need a person to directly and efficiently manage Millions of Federal employees, Trillion$ in highly budgets, mind numbing complexity in legislative, legal, social, and international issues.

Where do you find such a highly skilled person for U.S. President (?)
You don’t.

There are no such persons/candidates — the supposed job of U.S. President is far beyond human capability. Modern Presidents are hard pressed to even know the names of heads of the 116 major Federal Executive Branch branch departments, much less know and manage intricacies of those departments.
Most Presidential candidates could not efficiently manage a local WalMart, some could not even handle a 7-11 convenience store — but they are somehow taken seriously as Presidential material; media image totally negates substance.

Whole modern concept of the U.S. Presidency has deteriorated into sorry mess. Superficial celebrities best fit the charade.

8 Art Deco September 19, 2015 at 11:43 am

none of the current candidates would make the top 100,000 list among U.S. citizens age 35+.

Eight of the current candidates have actually presided over a public bureaucracy. No, you cannot find 100,000 people who have done that at their level.

9 JStart September 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm

“presided over a public bureaucracy”

Presiding (sitting in front of) is NOT managing.

Even big-state governors like JEB did not seriously “manage” anything, he was essentially a political figurehead. Plus the scale of the Federal government is far beyond anything these candidates even nominally presided over.

Main point is that NOBODY on the planet is objectively qualified to be President!

Current concept of the U.S. Presidency is a complete fairy tale and Presidential elections merely a form of popular superstition and ritual.

10 Barkley Rosser September 19, 2015 at 2:57 am

Reportedly Russian media is making all kinds of positive noises about Trump’s remarks about how he will “get along” with Putin.

11 er September 19, 2015 at 3:45 am

duh, except that being a senator is a step up in status for even an a list celeb, they just give up some autonomy.

12 Ricardo September 19, 2015 at 6:27 am

How many Americans can name a Senator even from their own state? Senators are largely faces in the crowd unless they are relatively senior or were famous even before being elected.

13 Rusty Synapses September 19, 2015 at 10:46 am

I was once in a line behind Mark Warner to check in to a hotel in Virginia. He’s a pretty recognizable guy, and he had recently been governor and was now a senator. I couldn’t believe it when the desk clerk asks him his last name, and he says “Warner” and the desk clerk, looking right at him with no sense of recognition says “first name”?

14 Ikea bookshelf September 19, 2015 at 9:21 am

I am not an A list celeb, but I think it would count as a big negative to be tied down in Washington for so much of the year.

15 Ikea bookshelf September 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

(Perhaps this means we should move the capital to Maui, to ensure better candidates.)

16 chuck martel September 19, 2015 at 10:19 am

DC should be made into a large museum and the functions of the three government branches disbursed to the localities of the elected. The only reason for a geographic capital is that all communications in the 18th century were made on a personal basis. To transfer a thought to another you had to do it yourself or get someone else to do it. This is no longer the case, we have telephones, fax, email, etc. In fact, most communication in DC itself is done electronically. Elected officials should remain in the districts they represent, where they’re easily available to the their constituents. There’s no practical reason for even life-time bureaucrats to swarm in one spot, they too can communicate in the now common-place electronic mode.

Capitals are an expensive anachronism from another age. Nobody knows the actual cost of maintaining the federal government in DC but it has to be enormous. We don’t need it anymore. John McCain should have daily office hours in Phoenix where concerned Zonies can approach him personally with suggestions and gripes instead of hiding in DC where he’s only available to other incompetents, staff, and professional lobbyists. It’s century 21, time to apply the available technology.

17 dearieme September 19, 2015 at 10:30 am

Just move it to Detroit. You know it make s sense.

18 John September 19, 2015 at 10:31 am

VR democracy is common in near-future Sci-Fi, but cultural change is slow. And besides, right now the Chinese would play hob with electronic voting.

19 Dulimbai September 19, 2015 at 6:15 am

So Tyler Cowen is against paragraphs now?

20 Slave Stealer September 19, 2015 at 6:41 am

Too bad John Wayne decided against running for president.

21 Keith September 19, 2015 at 7:13 am

Some more actors that I can think of:
Sonny Bono
Clint Eastwood mayor of Carmel
Fred Grandy House of Reps and Loveboat
Jessie Ventura, Gov of Minnesota
Fred Thomson

22 Art Deco September 19, 2015 at 10:45 am

Fred Grandy was a congressional aide ‘ere he was an actor and Fred Thompson was a lawyer who had also worked as a prosecutor and committee counsel on Capitol Hill. Both men were returning to an older career, not starting off on a new one.

23 Jeff September 19, 2015 at 8:30 am

The list of professional entertainers as candidates for office in other nations is long, particularly in Asia.

24 Anon September 19, 2015 at 9:04 am

Yes, especially in South India in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu, where Film Actors have held the highest electoral position.

25 James September 19, 2015 at 9:07 am

Interesting thinking about this in the context of your interview with Luigi Zingales, especially the parts about Berlusconi. Berlusconi was an A-list businessman in Italy and he was very successful in politics. Perhaps we should be glad that A-list businessmen in America don’t want to be politicians.

26 charlie September 19, 2015 at 9:12 am

All this is true, and there are different levels of charisma.

Take Adrian Fenty. Clearly a player.

That said, I’d say 85% of congressmen are highly charismatic people. Perhaps not on a TV level scale, but in a room they can work it well.

This all being true, but you’ve got to integrate it into the party mechanism. Politics is a crappy field and you’ve got to show a lot of ritual humiliation (corn dogs, meeting the Elks) to convince hard core party affiliates to vote and support you.

There is a huge disconnect between what people perceive politicians as doing and the reality. JFK Jr was 20 years ahead of time with George. Just as you can surmise that politics was cheap 20 years ago, we’re now in the stage where celebrity can be turned into political gold.

I’ve argued for years that Obama’s lack of success is his lack of playing ritual humiliation with the party. He didn’t need to — had built in support from black and strongish support from hyper-educated whites. But the hard part isn’t getting elected — it is getting people to actually follow you.

27 Art Deco September 19, 2015 at 10:47 am

I’d say 85% of congressmen are highly charismatic people.

Max Weber coined the term ‘charisma’ to describe someone with rare inspirational gifts a la Christ. Now people use it to describe Louise Slaughter gabbing over coffee at Cutler Union.

28 Alexp September 19, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Christ was nothing special. If he was, he would have accomplished something before he died.

Muhammad, though. That guy had charisma.

29 Ikea bookshelf September 19, 2015 at 9:28 am

I personally find the debates unbearable after about 2 minutes. I am sure this is partly an indictment of my low attention span, but it is also just sad that low grade BS is the currency in these markets.

30 chuck martel September 19, 2015 at 10:27 am

What do the debates really mean in establishing the managerial competence of candidates? Actually, the best presidential candidate would be an entertainer, probably David Copperfield. He’d be able to make Chinese subs disappear, pull coins from the nose of Sayyed Ali Khamenei and saw Putin in half.

31 ads September 19, 2015 at 2:42 pm


32 Eric Johnson September 19, 2015 at 10:34 am

You are mistaken if you think that Ben Affleck is an actor.

33 Dan in philly September 19, 2015 at 10:45 am

I’d just like to add that of my favorite presidents, few made their name as a politician first. Of my least favorite, most were career politicians.

34 Art Deco September 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

Obama, Clinton, Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy, pretty gruesome for the most part. Roosevelt, not so much.

35 jumbo September 19, 2015 at 11:18 am

Yup, yet another in a long string of Condorcet losers on tap for 2016.

36 Art Deco September 19, 2015 at 11:51 am

And your idea of the winner is whom? Hildebeast?

37 Joe in Boston September 19, 2015 at 2:10 pm

How should we interpret the top 150 point; as defined it is a point in time as it refers to current politicians. But, unlike with politicians, it is impractical for a current CEO to run for office so to talk about the current top 150 is misleading. Though she has clearly fallen out of favor there was a time ~15 years ago where Carly Fiorina would clearly have been in the top 150 most respected CEOs. It is possible that the current top 150 are simply more ‘skilled’ CEOs then the ones 15 years ago but I find it much more likely that the favor is finicky (as it often is with politicians) and the difference between the top 150 CEOs and the next few hundred is a combination of both skill and a healthy dosage of luck.

38 carlospln September 19, 2015 at 5:03 pm

“Though she has clearly fallen out of favor there was a time ~15 years ago where Carly Fiorina would clearly have been in the top 150 most respected CEOs” [snip]

Not if you knew anything about Lucent and the sales it was booking:

Her rap sheet includes: revenue recognition fraud.

Later, of course, she was unanimously fired by the Directors of Hewlett-Packard.

NB your point regarding the importance of luck is well taken.

39 Aaron Luchko September 19, 2015 at 2:19 pm

For Trump specifically I think his success has to do with his independence.

The Tea Party and evangelicals, two major constituencies in the Republican party, are motivated primarily by the culture war. And a major way to look like you’re fighting the culture war is to piss off progressives.

This strategy works great inside the party but is really bad when you go into a general election and try to recruit a wider demographic. So for politicians who try to fight the culture war (Palin, Cruz, Bachmann, Santorum, etc) need to to restrain themselves or the internal party apparatus starts to undercut them for hurting the larger brand.

Trump has no need of the party apparatus or long-term loyalties, all he cares about is winning the nomination. So he can go with a scorched earth policy of being as offensive as possible, pissing off progressives as much as possible, and dominating the culture warrior demographic. Even if he wins I suspect he has no chance in the general, and even if someone else wins it’s devastating for the Republican brand. But it’s a strategy that’s not really available to politician candidates who can’t afford to alienate the party structure.

40 greg September 20, 2015 at 1:05 am

This brings out a few general points:

1. The federal government as it is cannot be managed, (Thanks JStart) and therefore the country cannot be effectively (efficiently?) governed by it. Mathematically, the government (and also the country itself) could be said to be an overconstrained system, more equations than variables, and no real solution is likely to be possible.

2. The selection process answers to qualifications which are almost certainly not those qualifications needed to effectively govern the country, assuming the structure of the federal bureaucracy could be rationalized and managed. So even if the country could be governed, it is likely that who ever is selected will not be among those able to do it. It may actually be possible that there is no path for such a person capable of governing the country, were such a person to exist, to attain the office to govern. A person could exist who could govern, yet did not have the additional qualifications necessary to reach governance.

3. As a metastable system (here a dynamic system requiring continuous energy and information input and their proper feedback throughout the system to maintain itself) becomes more complex, the tolerances for error diminish. It becomes less stable, more sensitive to perturbations, and requiring of more management.

4. A country which is not effectively governed will fail, although, like a rudderless boat, the timing of its failure may not be predictable. Although increasing internal strains may eventually be sufficient to bring about failure, the country will also become increasingly sensitive and vulnerable to outside stressors,

5. Generally, increasing amplitude of low frequency modes characterizes a system as it grows less stable and approaches failure.

41 uedywBjGJEWtZOa October 11, 2015 at 9:53 pm

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