David Stokes
Can you be elected President of the United States if you are, well—personality challenged? Can you succeed in politics these days without the charm and charisma of a celebrity?

I’m not necessarily a Tim Pawlenty supporter, however I do wonder about the recent description of him by a conservative media mainstay as too “vanilla.” In other words, the former Governor of Minnesota is boring.

Really?

Haven’t we had a lot of charisma lately and haven’t we learned that style doesn’t always translate into substance?

There have actually been some rather boring presidents who turned out to be pretty effective. For example, Calvin Coolidge was probably the most un-charismatic president in our history. He ascended to the highest office in our land the moment Warren Harding expired in a San Francisco hotel in August of 1923. Coolidge was at the family home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont at the time without telephone service or even electricity. When he received the news, he got down on his knees and prayed. Then his father, a notary public, administered the oath of office in the middle of the night—certainly a modest beginning.

Yet, he was overwhelmingly elected in his own right in November of 1924.

Known to us these days as “Silent Cal,” his economy of words was akin to his view on economics in general. He was thrifty, conservative, and talked a lot about character and values. One biographer later called him, somewhat cynically, a “Puritan in Babylon.” But like the actual Puritans of history (not the caricatures portrayed in modern text books and media), he was a man whose obvious decency was itself a rebuke to an increasingly indecent age.

Had Coolidge chosen to run again in 1928, there is little doubt that he would have been victorious. But it’s doubtful that Calvin Coolidge could make the first-round cut in our day. He’d not only be regarded as too vanilla, but he’d be nonfat and sugar-free.

To many Americans, Harry Truman was a welcome change of pace from the imperiousness of his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt. His morning walks, friendly banter, and natural hospitality endeared him to many Americans. Remembered these days as feisty though, one wonders if he could survive long now without sound biting himself to political death. And very few people back then considered him all that charismatic.

At best, he was vanilla ice cream on apple pie. But he was an effective politician who defied political odds in 1948.


David Stokes

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, pastor, columnist, and broadcaster. His latest book is a novel: CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Based on a true story, it's about a unique moment in 1947, when Kennedy and Nixon shared