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September 05, 2008



Simple explanation. It's because, to the American public, the president is not the chief executive of a very large and diverse bureaucracy. (In that case, they'd vote for someone with experience running huge companies or organisations.) Nor is he the commander in chief of the nation's armed forces. (In that case, they'd vote for a retired general.)

He is, in fact, the Priest-Avatar of the State. http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2004/08/priest-avatar-of-state-there-are-times.html

"...the President does not exist... to muddy his hands in the tedious affairs of state. He exists not to guide the nation to where it should be. He exists to project an image of what it wants to be.

"America doesn't need a President to lead them; America needs a President who projects leadership. America doesn't need a President who's honest with his country; America needs a President who's honest with his wife. America doesn't need a President with a firm grasp of policy and a commitment to serving his country; America needs a President with the appearance of irrepressible optimism and Wholesome Heartland Values. America doesn't need a capable wartime President; America needs a President who makes himself look like war.

"And President Bush has done a magnificent job of that. Indeed, he's even started a couple of them. Remember, it's not the President's job to finish or win wars - that falls into the lower realm of policy...

"The job of the President of the United States is to forcefully emote the conscious and unconscious will of the American People. He is not the commander-in-chief. He is the Happy Warrior. He is the Priest-Avatar of the State."


The point of democracy is not to provide the best rulers.

The point of democracy is to minimize internal conflict, by giving the rulers an incentive to keep as many people and interest groups satisfied as possible. The point is to have a wide, stable consensus.

Therefore, it's good to have a "regular guy" in charge: someone who knows what most people want, and what will piss them off.

If he can pander to a lot of people in a campaign, he'll probably have a pretty good idea of their wishes when he's in power.


Isn't the problem that we think electing "one guy" is what we are doing anyway, rather than a set of policies. I thought YOU were the anti-managerialist Chris!


I would like to see some evidence for the above assumption that the electorate really does prefer candidates with an IQ of 100.

chris strange

Might it be that a brilliant intellect is actually a disadvantage in running the country, because they think that they can actually run it and will therefore fall into the managerialist trap?

Gordon Brown for instance is extremely clever. Unfortunately because he is so clever he thinks up complicated clever schemes that in theory fit together like a Harrison Chronometer, with all of the intricate parts perfectly balanced against one another (e.g. Tax Credits). However when these schemes are given over to the bureaucrats to be made to work in the real world it is like taking that Harrison Chronometer and hitting it repeatedly with a sledge hammer. Somebody less clever than him might have only tried to built a water timer, less accurate in theory but simpler and harder for the sledge hammer wielding world to break.


"Gordon Brown for instance is extremely clever." Don't overdo it. He's certainly an able chap, and an intellectual: much cleverer than, for instance, Blair. But I used to be in a small Hall of Residence with him - 50 people. It was a good University, so we had quite a few people conspicuously cleverer than Gordon. Hell, the cleverest laddies don't do History degrees, and the cleverest historians don't do PhDs in Labour History. I'll grant you, though, that he seemd to be the second cleverest historian among us. And he was certainly fly enough to bounce a cheque on me. And I was fly enough to keep it.


From "The American Commonwealth" (1888), James Bryce:

"Europeans often ask, and Americans do not always explain, how it happens that this great office, the greatest in the world, unless we except the Papcy, which anyone can rise by his own merits, is not more frequently filled by great and striking men. In America, which is beyond all other countries the country of a 'career open to talents', a country, moreover, in which political life is unusually keen and political ambition widely diffused, it might be expected that the highest place would always be won by a man of brilliant gifts. But from the time when the heroes of the revolution died out with Jefferson and Adams and Madison, no person except General Grant reached the chair whose name would've been remembered had he not been President, and no President except Abraham Lincoln had displayed rare or striking qualities in the chair"

I agree with those pointing out that the stronger the intellect the more likely one is to inflate what can be achieved in ordering and managing a society. Your observations about how flawed the 'regular guy' judgement can be are sound - but in principle I too think it's a far better test of suitability for high office....


'Regularity', as in your 'regular' guy, is a key element in the making judgments on others. It is an indefinable image because, by long observation, it seems to me to contain any number of contradictory parts, with perfect comfort as does the regular mentality. The mind of Mr Average, Your Regular Guy ... Blair ? ... routinely flips between many randomly held positions and concepts that, when examined with the simplest logic, are not compatible. All that is needed to keep this chameleon performance going is a large enough micro-second for the flips to happen without their incompatibilities being too obvious ... usually aided by a wordy glibness at which most males are very skillful. It's parallel to the competition that goes on among so-called 'Rights': one person's Right is routinely another's Wrong.

As for intelligence ... overprized and irrelevant in politics ... it is cunning that's valuable, plus a firm grasp of how to use tit-for-tat, which I take to be the noughts-and-crosses of politics.

The prince of presidents in my time has been someone who smiled quite a lot, could shape and deliver a decent but not great speech very nicely, and most importantly did not DO very much at all, but knew when to do it, and was as regular as they come ... Reagan. (Sorry about the heart-attacks! In my defence ... even though I was recently accused of being a Marxist ... I don't DO politics. I would like to live in Switzerland but my wife prefers France ... The Rights of (Woe)Man ... it's those darned irregular asymmetrical Rights again!)

As for your 'Dearie' correspondent, off whom Gordon bounced a cheque, that was just a dry run for the larger ones he has recently bounced off his new best friend Britannia.


The first president of independent Poland - Paderewski - was considered to be the greatest concert pianist of his day. Helmut Schmidt was a good pianist and Edward Heath a passable conductor.

But now, classical music is for squares - daddyo - and rock-n-roll is hip. Tony Blair was often photographed with his Fender Stratocaster and David Cameron is a big Morrissey fan. I still spot the odd Tory who's been told to say he likes Amy Winehouse when you know he prefers Mozart at Glyndeborne. There's something endearingly quaint about these guys.

I think that no politician will ever be elected Prime Minister if they admit they don't like pop music, and they prefer, say, the Late Beethoven String Quartets. In the public consciousness, a love of difficult, refined classical music is now seen as demonic. Think of Hannibal Lecter and the Goldberg Variations. Would you trust a politician who prefers the Well-Tempered Clavier to Bruce Springsteen?


"David Cameron is a big Morrissey fan."

And just when I thought there weren't any more reasons to dislike him.

The last politician I can remember who didn't even pretend to like popular culture was the late Donald Dewar. On being asked if he was going to see Trainspotting he something to the effect of, "And why would I do this to myself?" Everyone - and by 'everyone' I mean the Scottish press - made a fuss about him being a snob. I thought it was pretty cool. Not that I like high culture myself, you understand; classical music is for squares, daddyo - and quite possibly demonic to boot.


Shuggy -

I always liked Donald Dewar. That makes me like him more.

After 1989 the Czechs made their leading playwright President, while the Poles chose a humble former electrician from the Lenin shipyard. The Polish intellectuals never liked Walesa. He couldn't speak any foreign languages, his speeches were riddled with grammatical mistakes, he was just so plebeian. In their dreams they would have liked someone like Czeslaw Milosz to be President. But in terms of political acumen, maybe Walesa had more than Havel.

The first head of state of independent Lithuania was Vytautas Landsbergis, and he's a real culture vulture - former professor of music at the Vilnius Conservatory, married to a concert pianist.

Personally, I don't care whether a politician likes the Sugababes, Schubert or Stockhausen. What I find annoying - and maybe Donald Dewar picked up on this - is the near compulsory mateyness of modern politics. For some reason I have this image of William Hague making a prat of himself at the Notting Hill Carnival, and I just can't get rid of it - aargh!


My observation is that people are generally suspicious of anyone who they perceive to be cleverer than them. They have been tricked by "clever people" for all of their lives -- silver tongued sales people, wonder managers, cheque bouncers etc -- and continually ask themselves "what's in it for him?". Presenting yourself as a regular guy or gal is a self defence mechanism against suspicion that we all use, not just professional politicians. It's just that the mega-rich learned to self present regularity from childhood, whereas poorer geeks and nerds only picked it up in their teens.

Those of us who are interested in politics also have a very different set of opinions to the general population. We trust some of those who are on our side, but the general population trusts none of them. The US primary system therefore provides an advantage to "regular guys" whereas the UK processes -- ward/constituency candidate selection, "on merit" cabinet selection etc -- gives more space for nerds. David Miliband, for example, occasionally comes across as socially inept, but he has still been considered as prime ministerial material. A more extreme example is John Redwood.


two reasons:

1. Democratic politics is about representation. We want people who can at least convincingly pretend that they know what its like to be us.

2. John Redwood.

thinking about it, 2 is an argument in favour of predictability.



Politics is about sincerity. Once you can fake that, you can really screw the voters...

With Redwood, isn't it partly that he comes across as an austere puritan. People like that can serve in government, but voters are wary of letting them lead. Imagine if Stafford Cripps, rather than Clem Atlee, had been leader of the Labour party...

People do vote for some very "irregular", larger-than-life guys: Churchill, Schwartzenegger, even Ken and Boris in London...

I remember how the TV series "spitting image" seemed to die as soon as boring John Major replaced mad-but-interesting Thatcher...

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