Friday, February 08, 2008


Please shoot me -- it's "authenticity" time again:

L.A. Times: Romney Failed the 'Authentic' Test

Boston Globe: "But in the end, [Romney's] campaign foundered for one basic reason: He lacked authenticity."

Slate: "Despite sinking in $35 million of his own money (the WP says it was $50 million) and raising millions more, [Romney] still faced one fundamental problem that almost all the papers summarize with one word: 'authenticity.'"

New York Times: "Yet Mr. Romney's advisers acknowledged Thursday an array of tactical missteps and miscalculations. Perhaps most significantly, they conceded that they had failed to overcome doubts about Mr. Romney's authenticity...."

Never mind the fact that the last guy to survive a GOP presidential primary process was a Connecticut-born, prep school-educated, Ivy League legacy student whose favorite leisure-time activity seems to be mountain biking, one of the yuppiest forms of exercise imaginable, who has nevertheless been deemed a regular guy because he drops his g's and purchased a ranch just around the time he decided to seek the White House. And never mind the fact that the Republican Party's secular saint was a budget-busting non-church-attender who posed as a fiscal disciplinarian and as God's messenger on earth.

"Authenticity" is like sincerity -- all you have to do is learn how to fake it. Reagan and W could, at least well enough to fool the party's rubes; Romney simply couldn't.


Now, you know what all this "authenticity" talk means, of course: It means the pundits are about to tell us that "authenticity" is the #1 issue in this election -- not the economy, not Iraq, not health care.

This is a serious problem if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee -- everyone "knows" she's a phony. And the pundits all "know" John McCain is "authentic."

David Broder: "The presumption of authenticity -- the assumption that what he says, he actually believes -- is John McCain's greatest strength...."

Pollster John Zogby: "There's something more at play when you're dealing with John McCain -- it's authenticity."

CBN political reporter and frequent Meet the Press panelist David Brody: "I have been on the campaign trail with John McCain. I have talked to voters about him. What is resonating with people is his love of country, patriotism, leadership ability and authenticity."

I think this won't be a problem if Obama is the nominee -- but there have been a few signs that even he might be vulnerable. A New York Sun editorial asked last month,

But how did Mr. Obama become the King of our day? With all the talk of Mr. Obama's authenticity, it's remarkable that so few have wondered how this candidate can declaim like a Southern preacher.

And if pundits do turn against Obama, they might even pick up on the fact that some black writers have questioned whether Obama is "authentically" African-American, given that he's not descended from West African slaves like most American blacks. That would be grasping at straws (he's certainly not pretending to be something he isn't), but the pundits might decide to go there if there's a sincere desire to contrast him unfavorably with John McCain.


I hate all the "authenticity" talk. I hate it because it's staggeringly misleading -- when the pundits say "authentic," what they really mean is "charismatic."

To the pundits, you're not "authentic" if you're in any way a geek, or if you struggle with the personality parts of politics, even though awkward may be exactly what you are. Gore, Kerry, Dukakis -- all of them were awkward, and all of them are considered "inauthentic," even though no one can actually point out a difference between what we saw of them and what they are. Social discomfort was treated as deceptiveness.

And I think the supposedly devious phoniness of Hillary Clinton is vastly overstated. I think she really is a wonk with a serious demeanor who sometimes gets angry or chokes up or lets out a big laugh -- she's basically what she appears to be. Her political deeds often don't match her idealistic rhetoric -- which makes her like every other politician. Maybe she fakes emotion sometimes -- but don't tell me every pol who strolls through Iowa is sincerely in awe of the butter cow. As a faker, she can't hold a candle to George W. Bush, whose ersatz empathy and heartache at the thought of dead troops is treated in the press as genuine, and whose accounts of, say, prodigious book-reading are regarded as the God's honest truth.

As for Romney, I think people think he has charisma, but he doesn't -- he's a guy who looks as if he has charisma. He's like a mid-market local-news anchorman who has a terrific jaw line but just lacks a certain something that keeps him from going nationwide. If he were truly charismatic, I think he'd have gotten away with every phony aspect of his campaign -- with the press's full complicity.

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