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Saturday, November 20, 2010

How's That Gravitas Workin' For Ya?

Remember, when you hear about how important it is that the next Republican nominee for President have "gravitas," the following have been designed by people with gravitas:
  • The TSA's scanning and groping system.
  • Obamacare.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the mortgage bubble.
  • Our tax code.
  • Our federal and state budget deficits.
  • Our immigration system.
  • (feel free to add more in the comments)
We need gravitas, because gravitas has worked so well so far.

Related Posts:
We Don't Need No Stinking Doers
Should Law Professors Really Be Running The Government?
Welcome To The Real World, Professor Obama

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  1. Good point. I'm looking for articulation of solid principles. Big words optional. Palin, Angle, and O'Donnell - though not necessarily my first choice for anything - all pass my test with flying colors.

    "Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive"

  2. Even worse, look at how often the term 'gravitas' was associated with that maverick RINO, John McCain. That should make you cringe every time you hear someone from the GOP utter the word.

  3. Well said. This country has suffered the "whiz kids" and "the best and the brightest" who turned out to be vacant dim bulbs and hidebound bureaucrats. Remember Robert MacNamara's apology for Viet Nam?

    When will apologies from Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and others be forthcoming?

    Gravitas? Meh! Give us a real background with accomplishments other than frat parties, speaking engagements, ribbon cutting and ambulance chasing.

    The fewer awards for Advanced Preaching to the Choir the better.

  4. I never knew what it was. But if this list is of the results, I don't think it should be allowed to exist.

  5. It took an employee at Coca-Cola with gravitas to design New Coke back in the day.

  6. Stupid World: where you rise by your gravity and sink by your levity.

  7. "I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University."

    The only problem I have with that is Boston. I'd make it Omaha.

  8. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. The governmental programs and actions you list (and all other such programs and actions for that matter) were "designed" by the often-chaotic clash of interests and differences in a vast continental nation of 300 million people through our democratic political institutions. Unfortunately, over the past 40 years in particular, statist and liberal ideas and principles and the policies and programs that flow from them have grown relatively more popular. That may or may not continue to be the case; at the moment, some of those ideas and principles have lost their appeal and conservatives have an historic opportunity to demonstrate again the virtues of individual liberty, freedom of enterprise and limited government.

    What any of this has to do with politicians or leaders with "gravitas" escapes me. In fact, many of the worst programs and actions of the past 40 years were conceived, enacted or administered by people who were manifestly lacking in that particular charismatic trait (eg, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi among scores of others).

    Surely, Professor, you don't think that any guy picked randomly off the street can effectively lead the nation?

  9. P.J. O'Rourke tries to improve on William F. Buckley's idea noted by LukeHandCool.


    The short version is that O'Rourke says we should select our representatives the way we select people for jury duty - randomly - then let the voters act like defense attorneys and prosecutors and cull those who we deem to be unsuitable for the job. Once the culling process has weeded out the undesirables, the voters go to the polls one last time to decide from the remaining randomly selected "nominees" who we want to represent us.

    I'm not sure if O'Rourke's proposition is meant to be satirical or serious, but I like it. It gets rid of the egomanical career politicians who have been corrupted by the special interests of Big Labor, Big Business, and Big Government and it makes service to the country the civic duty it was always intended to be. Besides, the results can't be any worse than what the current system has produced.

  10. As your list underscores: Smug ain't smart.

  11. My sentiments exactly. How could Palin, Buck, O'Donnell, Miller, etc., possibly muck things up for the country any worse than they've already been by the trained seals of Harvard and Princeton that's been running the country forever? It takes a real heaping of hubris to claim a country that's in debt to the tune of 14 trillion dollars should stick with the same people and attitudes that brought us to this point.

  12. Dear Professor:

    In the most general sense I agree with you, that is to say "gravitas" is an idiotic word to use because it has almost no concrete meaning. When Biden was selected as the VP candidate Shirley Bebich Jeffey(sp?) a "political expert" on the Channel 4 in LA literally gushed about the pick of Biden and was exciteb about how he brought "gravitas" to the ticket. I thought Biden was almost the worst thing possible. He is nearly illiterate, has no grasp of history, lies through his teeth and plagiarizes. So this is "gravitas" and this is good??
    But, the citations you made were all designed by bureaucrats acting on a limited understanding of what the people wanted, a beam of light (if you will) shot through the prism of ideological drive and bureaucratic self-interest. I don't think one identifiable individual created any of those things you cited. Yes, "Obamacare" has President Obama writen all over it, but it was designed by Pelosi and Reid but written (apparently) by staff and lobbyists. I don't know if they have "gravitas" or not.

  13. MaggotAtBroad&Wall:

    There is a simpler way to separate leadership from careerism, at least on the local and state levels: don't pay elected representatives such as state and county legislators and town and city council members anything -- or at least pay them only nominal amounts -- limit the time these legislative bodies meet, and provide them with minimal staff support but no personal staffs.

    New Hampshire pays its state legislators $100 a year, period. The legislature meets for 45 days a year. By contrast, California legislators are paid more than $113,000 a year, plus various expenses. They depend on sizable staffs. They supposedly work year-round -- the justification for their salaries. Setting aside party, which state is better run and in better shape economically? (Not incidentally, each of the 400 members of the NH lower house represents about 3000 constituents, not tens or hundreds of thousands, which means NH legislative candidates can personally canvass their electorates and voters may actually know their representatives.)

    California will argue that as a big state, its problems and challenges demand full-time legislators with ample staffs and resources for them to tackle complex issues, etc., etc. Maybe, but in my state of New York -- where state legislators are paid a minimum of $79,000 plus per diems and expenses and get Albany and district offices and substantial staff budgets -- that argument is pure bunk. Many New York legislators still practice law or engage in other businesses and to the extent they work "full time" and "year round," they are all constantly running to get themselves releected every two years. A handful of leaders in each House decide what the Legislature will do and on all isssues of importance, members vote strictly on party lines as their leaders instruct.

    These are cushy jobs that stroke the ego and make their holders feel important. But most of the "work" consists of finding ways to pass more and more laws that might please one or another constituency, usually costing the state money. To put it simply, when the job is part time and pays little or nothing, people who are equally good or even better will run, spend the brief amount of time that is really necessary to do the job, and not worry a whole lot about whether they will be reelected.

    I served for nine years on my local (suburban New York) school board to which I was elected by my neighbors three times. The pay was zero; the expense reimbursement was zero; we had no staff but relied on school administrators to do what we asked of them by way of providing needed information and reports, which they always did. My school district encompassed parts of three municipalities and had a staff and budget substantially larger than the biggest of those municipalities -- a town with an elected Town Council whose members were handsomely paid. My school board met about 15 evenings a year -- plus occasional special meetings called for emergencies. I would spend several hours a week outside meetings boning up and what not (more when I took my revolving turn as President of the Board). We ran smoothly enough that our proceedings were consistently not newsworthy. Typically, members served two or three three-year terms and moved on (it was a bit of a sacrifice). Not a single board member of the past 30 years has used board membership as a spring board to running for other office. And not incidentally, our school board elections are non-partisan and I've never known anyone to ask or care whether a candidate was a Republican or a Democrat.

    Meanwhile, our over-lapping Town Council is forever engaged in turmoil (mostly related to members seeking higher office); its members work hard to get themselves releected ad infinitum; and the Town is badly run.

    If you really want limited government, you should start literally by limiting the ability of local and state legislators to make a living out of wielding governmental power.

  14. I'm reminded of a line from the Princess Bride - "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

  15. Um, our entire foreign policy?

    So many, so little time ...

  16. The Solution Is Simple: Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill, and do not recognize their true inadequacy. Thay fail to recognize genuine skill in others.

    The unskilled overrate their own ability as above average. The highly-skilled underrate their abilities, often below the self-rating of the unskilled.

    Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, because competent individuals wrongly assume that others are also competent. The incompetent misjudge themselves, whereas the highly competent misjudge others.

    Many intellectuals believe that there is no job (oil company CEO, football coach, running the local post office) that they cannot do as well or better than the person currently in the role, should they ever exert the effort to do so.

    Most academics get points for manipulating an entirely artificial world of symbols and constructs. They think that all complexity in the world is made up, like their own studies, to get points, but none of it is true. Truth is whatever the powerful say it is.

    They never have to create anything other than words, so they never have to confront their lack of real knowledge.

    So, we would be much better off if we elected people who doubted their abilities and insights, so that they would hesitate to interfere in people's lives and take their money. It is a disaster to empower people who regard themselves as the smartest person they have ever met.

    - -
    Bertrand Russell:
    The stupid are cocksure, and the intelligent are full of doubt.
    Most people would rather die than think. In fact, they do so.

  17. Gravitas, a positive for the left, reminds me of another word used by the right - in the same fashion: pragmatic. Pragmatism (particularly on the right) has done a lot to torpedo our country and - I think - launch a revolt (Tea Party) against it.

    Wasn't it pragmatic of Bush Sr to raise taxes (read my hips); for Bush Jr to start the biggest expansion of the welfare state in a gen (medicare Rx); to drop food from 1 plane while dropping bombs from another; to act uncapitalistic to save capitalism... I could list 100 things that are completely contrary to our fundamentals, yet we (me excluded) still applaud the "non-ideological / pragmatic" man as a hero.

  18. I would list our energy policy.

    True, it looks like it was crafted by very, very dense people.

  19. Remember that Obama said one of his chief goals was to "make government cool again." There is nothing cool about the government.

  20. If we assume that very few of us are qualified to hold the job of President then we have failed ourselves and our country. Perhaps you can't pull the random person off the sidewalk, but the job is not outside the skills of many millions of Americans. The secret is to abide by the Constitution and govern the least.

  21. "Surely, Professor, you don't think that any guy picked randomly off the street can effectively lead the nation?"

    I think that any guy (or gal) picked randomly off the street LIKELY can MORE effectively lead the nation.

    It's time for humanity to escape the gravitas well.

  22. The real problem seems to me to be that the terms 'gravitas' and 'pragmatic' have been launched and used by, almost exclusively originally, by the dolts of the MSM.

    I mean, really. Separate any of the names and videos from the prouncemientos of the MSM 'reporters', 'journalists', 'pundits', and/or generic 'talking heads' from the text gushed forth and see how much of it makes any sense.

    The Coastal Credentialed Elite that considers itself the arbiter of "Conventional Wisdom" is a dumb as a bag of hair, as a collective entity.

    Words like 'gravitas' and 'pragmatic' really means "we think we can roll these people into doing what we think is right." They're empty shells into which the MSM Morons can pour any policy they like.

    To Hell with all of them.

  23. Sheesh. Couldn't have been better. My word verification for the previous post was:



  24. In their day, people thought Jeff Davis had gravitas, but not Lincoln.

    Gravitas is a useful thing but hardly dispositive and whether one has it is best left to the judgement of history, anyway.

  25. Perhaps an of over representation 'gravitas' was not what got us all those wonderful things, but rather an over representation of Ivy Leaguers. Its an idea.

  26. Mashed potatoes: they need gravitas. Also, butter.

  27. Agreed, but it does not follow that a lack of gravitas is desirable in a Presidential candidate.

  28. Gravitas, a positive for the left, reminds me of another word used by the right - in the same fashion: pragmatic.-Dan

    'Pragmatic' is no more than the word 'practical' with (you guessed it!) gravitas.

    What is practical depends upon what one seeks to practice.-Ayn Rand

  29. "...effectively lead the nation?"
    If you believe that such a creature exists then perhaps you should excuse yourself from the talent pool.

  30. The Gordian knot created by all the "gravitas" needs the Alexanderian solution.