Is Michael D Higgins the ultimate charismatic non-charismatic?

‘Michael D’ defies contemporary leadership stereotypes. A case could be made for saying that this man is the ultimate charismatic non-charismatic

The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins makes an historic state visit to England [April 8th, 2014]. The trip is redolent with symbolism, as was The Queen’s visit to Ireland three years ago.

According to popular theory, a leader in the public eye has to pass the celebrity test of physical attractiveness. Absence of media glamour is a bar to a successful political career. In the UK, Ed Milliband suffers from repeated media references to his lack of personal attractiveness predicating his non-electability as the country’s next Prime Minister. Dr Higgins has been lampooned for his unimpressive physical appearance and stature.

The Irish are different

The Irish appointed a different kind of leader as their President. The two previous incumbents were Mary Robinson followed by Mary McAleese. Lucky the land to have found such impressive heads of state.

Then there was ‘Michael D’

‘Michael D’ was appointed in what seemed another burst of creative contrarianism by the Irish electorate. At the time, I got the election seriously wrong. I noted that two charismatic candidates were spicing up the election campaign. Both dropped out of view and eventually did not run. Instead a veteran politician and scholarly academic was elected.

An important ingredient of charisma

The Irish voters listened to what Michael had to say, and voted him in. This week he showed why to an international audience. He is an impressive and empathic communicator. In advance of his State visit to England he was asked whether it was time to put aside the lingering scars in Ireland of a relationship of often bloody disputes. He replied in a moving and convincing way. No, he replied, he had no right to demand such a thing of his people although he hoped he could help movement forward toward a better future.

And that was the moment I understood a little more about his charisma.

Context

Much of this post will be understood differently from the perspectives of readers familiar with the historical and complex relationship between England and Ireland. [For example, the symbolism of the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011, and of this return visit] Some of the modern history is touched upon in the links to the post, which mainly focuses on the surprising nature of the charisma of the Irish President.

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