Power Worship

Beinart notes that the winners of Gallup’s annual “most admired” poll are almost always those whom the public sees as most powerful:

Start with the women. Gallup’s been asking the question since 1948. Until about 1970, the winners are almost all first ladies. Then, as women become leaders of high-profile countries, female politicians start supplanting them: Golda Meir wins three times in the 1970s; Margaret Thatcher six times in the 1980s and early 1990s; Clinton dominates ever since. Back when she was still considered a presidential contender, Sarah Palin did well. When she was secretary of state, so did Condoleezza Rice.

It’s hard to discern any ideological judgment in all this. Clinton wins in 1993 and 1994, the two years her husband’s approval ratings hit their lowest points. Rice’s rankings go up as she gets promoted from national security adviser to secretary of state, even as the Iraq War that she helped promote goes south. Nor is it true that Gallup merely measures celebrity, since athletes and Hollywood icons are largely absent. Looking at the winners across the decades, the most common denominator is power. Indeed, the only female winners not in close proximity to political power are Mother Theresa in the 1980s and 1990s and Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse who gained fame treating polio, in 1951.