Charisma. The candidates announcing they will run brings to mind the matter of charisma. And the mystery of why some people have it. And some do not.
The word falls short. It does not convey the extent of what I mean here. A few examples may help.
Years ago I had to arrange several events for Jesse Owens. (For younger readers, Owens was perhaps the greatest athlete of the 20th century.) Owens charisma, the power of his presence, was greater than most of us could imagine. When he entered a room of 600 people, we all sensed it. We who had been downing wine and cheese and nattering with each other. We knew, without seeing him, that someone had just sucked the oxygen from the room.
His remarks were vacuous. He said nothing memorable. He said nothing that made much sense, when you read it, parsed it. Yet half the audience seemed ready to swoon. Such was the power he radiated.
Many people say the same of Bill Clinton. That when he enters a gathering people feel the electricity in the air. JFK certainly had that effect in the street rally I was at in Chicago. Most people felt he arrived on a stream of air.
I have been at a few gatherings when Hillary arrived. Her backers had primed the group. She arrived late, which heightened anticipation. She entered in royal fashion, surrounded by entourage. The colors of her clothing added to her distinctive appearance. But she flopped. In the charisma department. The gatherings were of her fans, for the most part. They loved seeing and hearing her. But no electricity. No loss of oxygen.
I know, I know, such things are in the eyes and mind of the beholder. Some of the folks there may have felt them. However, it did not seem or feel like swooning season had arrived.
Herman Cain has just announced he will run for the White House. He is a dark horse, and dark of skin as well. This is not an endorsement of him. But my guess is that if he walked into a gymnasium where you were carousing with a thousand people, you would know he arrived.
I met and talked with him at a small dinner. He left me gasping for air. Not because I was a fan, for I knew nothing about him. He simply took over the space. It was as if his arms were fifteen-feet long and he spread them, preacher-like, and flattened us against the walls.
Thomas Sowell, the economist-writer, impressed me the same way. If you asked people - as they watched him speak – what word came to their minds, I suspect most would say “power.” I shook hands with LBJ once. A fan of his I was definitely not. Yet I came away certain his hand and head were five times larger than mine.
Movie and sports stars, business leaders, preachers, politicians, quasi-politicians, various performers: Some got it. Charisma. Powerful presence. Others do not. And all the publicity and build-up, and king’s horses and king’s men will not create it for them.
From Tom ... as in Morgan.
For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows and new TV shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.