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AGAINST AUTHENTICITY! Why can Hillary seem a bit guarded? Amazingly, Dems still don’t know: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2006

HOWLER HIATUS: We’re off to clear the pasture spring. We’ll return toward the end of next week.

AGAINST AUTHENTICITY: Having praised Josh Marshall’s twin sites to the skies, we’ll take strong issue with this M. J. Rosenberg post—a post Kevin Drum unwisely semi-seconded. To gaze on a rare blown call by Kevin, you know what to do—just click here.

Here’s the heart of what Rosenberg said. It concerns Hillary Clinton:
ROSENBERG (12/21/06): I just watched Hillary Clinton on "the View." And I realized something. Every time she lets go a little (like when she jogged into the room), she is very appealing. And every time she discusses things like engaging in "a national conversation" about whatever the hell it was, she is terrible.
In this passage, we see a writer at a “smart” liberal site getting into the press corps’ favorite game—making judgments about appearance and body language, and about what is “very appealing.” Needless to say, he had a judgment about Obama too—and a thought about (groan) “authenticity:”
ROSENBERG (continuing directly): Barack Obama, on the other hand, never seems programmed. Did you see him on Monday Night Football? If not, check out Youtube. My favorite part is when he da-ta-ta-da's the MNF theme. He could have looked like an idiot. He looked great.

Now I'm not saying that either Barack or Hillary is authentic. I don't know either one.

But I'll say this. Obama is great because he acts as if his operating philosophy is "what the fuck."

In other words, he does not seem to be measuring every word and gesture, calculating whether they will get him into trouble. That is what makes him so cool and so appealing—that and everything else about him.
For liberals, this sort of thing is spectacularly foolish. Here’s why:

First and most obvious, such judgments are almost completely subjective. Indeed, our own reactions to these TV appearances were virtually opposite to Rosenberg’s. We thought Clinton was superb on the Today show this Monday (to Chris Matthews, she seemed like a stripper, of course)—and we thought she looked unappealingly awkward when she jogged onto the set of The View. In general, we thought her presentation was much better on Today. Meanwhile, we didn’t like Obama on Monday Night Football; we thought he took himself extremely seriously in the presentation, which cuts against his general appeal. Nor were we the only ones; Jason Zengerle was bummed by it too.

Again, when we talk about what is “appealing” and authentic,” we enter extremely subjective territory. And oh yeah—we validate the type of discussion the mainstream press corps is eager to have. Once we allow this type of discussion, they can create any novel they want about who’s “authentic” and who isn’t. And surprise! As an upper-class and corporate institution, the press corps will increasingly tend to judge that Republican candidates seem “authentic”—and that the Dems do not. Indeed, that’s precisely the way this group has called it in our last two White House campaigns—Bush and McCain were authentic straight-shooters, the hideous Gore and Kerry were not. As a general matter, they will continue to make such judgments—if we validate the type of discussion this addled crew hopes to have.

Having studied the 2000 race in detail, we cringe when intelligent liberals adopt the “authenticity” meme. That silly theme is the press corps’ meat. Once we let them start making such judgments, they’ll quickly craft the story they like—and whatever it is, they’ll recite it in unison. And again, their judgments—which will be too subjective to be meaningfully disputed—will tend to favor Republicans. Even now, with Bush having nearly destroyed the known world, they haven’t quite walked away from their “Republicans = authenticity” judgments. They will soon return to these themes in force—if we stoop to the silly place where they want our discourse to go.

Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t really have a favorite between Obama, Clinton, Edwards and others. We say this—let them battle it out. But it’s extremely easy to criticize Clinton (and Gore before her) for being somewhat guarded in public. During Campaign 2000, for example, why did Gore sometimes “seem to measure every word and gesture, calculating whether they will get him into trouble?” Simple! He seemed to do that because he had to—because, the way the game was being played, if he got one syllable out of place, the press corps would land on his head like a mountain, turning it into a vast referendum on his deeply disturbing lack of character. Hillary Clinton has also had to play by these gong-show rules. She has absorbed an astonishing amount of abuse in the past fifteen years, and (like Gore) she has done a miraculous job of soldiering on despite it. Obama has not had to deal with such inanity—indeed, let’s hope he never has to. But it’s easy to maintain your “WTF” posture when the whole world is singing your praises. If you doubt that, observe Gore’s widely-remarked casual attitude in An Inconvenient Truth. That was not a “different” Al Gore, as fatuous pundits quickly judged. That was the same Al Gore—in a circumstance where he didn’t have to consider the pseudo-scandal that every pointless gesture could “cause.”

To this day, people like Rosenberg fail to grasp why Clinton and Gore have at times seemed “guarded.” In doing so, they fail to grasp the most elementary way our politics has worked in the past dozen years. For reasons we can’t begin to grasp, we liberals seem determined to do this. We can’t run fast enough to adopt themes our opponents have hatched.

If Dem and libs have an ounce of sense, we will resist the press corps’ desire to craft discussions about “authenticity.” It’s just a cover they adopt—one which lets them lower our discourse to the place where they can type their novels. And, as an upper-class, corporate cohort, they will always tend to say that the Republican is really the “authentic” person. If you’re a Democrat or a liberal, Hillary Clinton has died for your sins. That doesn’t mean she should be the nominee, but she deserves your respect, as does Gore. Each has taken a ton of shit—while our “liberal leaders” have stared into air.

Which of the hopefuls is most authentic? We have an answer to that: STFU! If we Democrats have an ounce of sense, we’ll steer the discussion toward serious topics—topics which are less subjective. In the past fifteen years, the public has generally agreed with Dems on the vast range of major issues. For that reason, Republicans wants to talk “authenticity”—and so does your script-reading press corps.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: How much shit did Al Gore take? Why did Gore, like Hillary Clinton, see that he had to be publicly “guarded?” On Christmas Eve 1999, the Washington Post came up with new proof of this phony man’s inauthenticity. That’s right—it was his family’s Christmas card which showed Gore’s troubling lack of character. Did we mention the fact that this report appeared in the Post on Christmas Eve?

Meanwhile, why was McCain so relaxed on his bus? Duh! As various reporters actually acknowledged, when McCain would say weird things, the press corps would “take him off the record!” That is, when McCain said and did weird things, reporters reached a common judgment—they wouldn’t report it! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/15/99.) And yet, we liberals still can’t figure out why some candidates seem so “comfortable in their own skin,” while others “seem to be measuring every word and gesture, calculating whether they will get him into trouble.”

Why did Al Gore sometimes seem guarded? If you’re the type who still doesn’t know, the magi have a gift—just click here.