The other morning I was reading Ladies Home Journal, a publication that I confess I do not like but I peruse because of my interests in media and advertising. By way of background, LHJ is a very conservative women’s magazine. Even while it tries desperately to come into the 21st century after 125 years of existence, it feels still in many ways like a publication out of the 1950s. (To their credit, they are obviously doing something that appeals to a large number of women. LHJ has a circulation of 4.1 million readers. To put that into perspective, that’s almost half a million more readers than People magazine and almost twice as many readers as O, The Oprah Magazine.)
Rick Warren of Purpose-Driven Life fame writes a monthly column for this publication. It is usually about God or being a better person or something along those lines. This month’s column is called What Makes a Great President?
I have issues with this article on a number of levels. First, the article’s subhead is “For women who want to vote with their heart.” Since when should our heart be the organ that is used to decide who to vote for? Is this publication suggesting that only women vote this way or that they should vote this way? Are they suggesting that women vote with their hearts, but men vote with their brains? While I am aware from studies that in the final analysis when people are standing in the booth it does ultimately come down to a gut decision, but is that where the process should start? Is that what a major women’s publication should be espousing during this critical election?
Second and even more offensive is the language that is coded into this text. Remember, Rick Warren is the pastor that held the Saddleback Civil Forum. This forum was the first long form interviews with the two presidential candidates after they were selected by their respective parties. Because of this, he has become a powerful influence in the political process.
During the forum, Pastor Rick (as he is known) went out of his way to say that he was friends with both McCain and Obama. Yet, in this article which will be read by millions of women and presumably passed on to their husbands, Warren shows that he is partisan toward McCain. The column says in part:
The foundation of leadership is not competence or charisma, but character. Charismatic people are often assumed to be the best leaders, but it’s a trait that can be used for good or evil. Three of the most charismatic leaders of the 20th century — Hitler, Mao, and Stalin — were also its worst, destroying the lives of millions. Without character, charisma becomes a menace, used to manipulate situations for selfish reasons. Whether leading in business, education, politics, or family, character always trumps charisma.
Charisma is the term that has been used again and again to describe one candidate and one candidate only in this campaign — Barack Obama. Not only does Warren use the term over and over to ensure people get the underlying code, he equates the word with the worst of history’s despots.
Since when did charisma become a bad word? According to the dictionary, charisma is “a spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.” More colloquially, charisma is sometimes defined as being filled with spirit. In Christianity, it is ascribed to someone who can perform miracles because they have been infused with the Holy Spirit.
Wouldn’t we describe the vast majority of our leaders as charismatic? Wouldn’t we describe the vast majority of our religious leaders as charismatic? Wouldn’t we describe Rick Warren as charismatic? Is he like Hitler? Or Mao? Or Stalin? I don’t think so. Though I do believe, like many others, that he wields more influence than he should and not all to the good.
Yes, the article goes on to say that a president should have compassion, contemplation, cheerfulness, concentration, courage, and a clear conscience. Certainly all of these things could also be applied to Senator Obama. However, the column is structured to lead the reader to be anti-Obama from the start — “don’t like this guy because he’s charismatic, even if he does have all these other attributes.”
Shame on Rick Warren, shame on Ladies Home Journal, and shame on their publisher, Meredith, both for being so deceptive and for treating women like they don’t have a brain. Please feel free to contact them.