Authentic Nonsense

by digby

According to the AP:

Overall, the race between Obama and McCain amounts to an authenticity contest.

Voters are craving change from typical Washington ways and each candidate is claiming he offers a new brand of politics that transcends poisonous partisanship. Yet, each candidate, in what he says versus what he does, also is undermining his own promises not to become the politics of usual.

Nobody knows the dangers of cliche writing on the run better than a blogger. But this is ridiculous. The run for the presidency is not an "authenticity" contest. That's a tired Village narrative that always favors the so-called "manly man" who "tells it like it is." In other words, if favors the phony macho dude over the geeky, smart guy --- Republican over Democrat.

The press told us back in 2000 that Al Gore was a big phony, remember? And George W. Bush was a down to earth, "uniter not a divider" who would bring "honor and dignity" back to the White House. That worked out really well.

This is a stupid way to evaluate candidates. How "authentic" can any politician reasonably be? His whole job is to try to be as many things to as many people as possible. (And anyway, just try to be yourself and order and orange juice in a diner instead of coffee (omg!) and see where it gets you.)

"Transcending poisonous partisanship" is shaping up to be the catch phrase of the year. The only problem is that we have no idea what it means. Most often they use it to indicate the necessity for compromise and conciliation to "get things done." But they only haul that out when Democrats take power. When Republicans are in power "transcending poisonous partisanship" is defined as "resolve" and "sticking to principle." Head I win, tails you lose.

These tropes are not the defining issues in the campaign, but they create the framework around which the media covers it. This "authenticity" meme is more destructive to Obama than it is to the old warhorse McCain, about whom the most important thing people know is that he was a POW. ("He's been to hell and back, he's not afraid of anything or anyone.") People are just wrapping their minds around the new guy and his image is more malleable.

If they have to do character studies of the candidates, how about just straight reporting about their history, work habits, accomplishments, likes and dislikes and let the people judge for themselves whether it comes off as authentic or not. Humans are remarkably well equipped to do that on their own. There are whole fields of study devoted to understanding the complex mechanisms by which people size other people up. (Sometimes people actually prefer someone who is "inauthentic" in certain ways.) We can't rely on the press to interpret these things for us. They are too insular, too parochial and too subject to group-think to be trustworthy interpreters of these people's characters. These are the same people, after all, who said that George W. Bush was a humble man of low ambition. And then he ran his presidency as if he'd been born a king.