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Monday, June 11, 2007

Paul Krugman: Authentic? Never Mind

Paul Krugman on how the the term "authenticity" is used by political reporters, and how it gets in the way of identifying and discussing more substantive issues:

Authentic? Never Mind, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Rich liberals who claim they’ll help America’s less fortunate are phonies.

Let me give you one example — a Democrat who said he’d work on behalf of workers and the poor. He even said he’d take on Big Business. But the truth is that while he was saying those things, he was living in a big house and had a pretty lavish summer home too. His favorite recreation, sailing, was incredibly elitist. And he didn’t talk like a regular guy.

Clearly, this politician wasn’t authentic. His name? Franklin Delano Roosevelt...

[T]oday, it seems, politics is all about seeming authentic. ... What does authenticity mean? Supposedly it means not pretending to be who you aren’t. But that definition doesn’t seem to fit the way the term is actually used in political reporting.

For example, the case of F.D.R. shows that there’s nothing inauthentic, in the normal sense of the word, about calling for ... policies that will hurt your own financial position. But the news media seem to find it deeply disturbing that John Edwards talks about fighting poverty while living in a big house.

On the other hand, ... Fred Thompson ... spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with ... Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

But Mr. Thompson’s strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he’s “authentic.”...

Talk of authenticity, it seems, lets commentators and journalists put down politicians they don’t like or praise politicians they like, with no relationship to what the politicians actually say or do.

Here’s a suggestion: Why not evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, rather than their authenticity? And if there are reasons to doubt a candidate’s sincerity, spell them out.

For example, Hillary Clinton’s credibility as a friend of labor is called into question, not by her biography or life style, but by the fact that ... her chief strategist — a man Al Gore fired in 2000 because he didn’t trust him — heads a public relations company that helps corporations fight union organizing drives.

And where do you start with Rudy Giuliani? We keep being told that he has credibility on national security, because he seemed so reassuring on 9/11. (Some firefighters have condemned his actual performance..., saying that rescue efforts were uncoordinated and that firemen died because he provided them with faulty radios. ... And the nation’s largest firefighters’ union has condemned his handling of recovery efforts...)

But he’s spent the years since then cashing in on terrorism, and his decisions about Giuliani Partners’ personnel and clients raise real questions... His partners, as The Washington Post pointed out, included “a former police commissioner later convicted of corruption, a former F.B.I. executive who admitted taking artifacts from ground zero and a former Roman Catholic priest accused of covering up sexual abuse in the church.”

The point is that questions about a candidate shouldn’t be whether he or she is “authentic.” They should be about motives: whose interests would the candidate serve if elected? And think how much better shape the nation would be in if enough people had asked that question seven years ago.

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Previous (6/8) column: Paul Krugman: Lies, Sighs and Politics
Next (6/15) column: Paul Krugman: America Comes Up Short

    Posted by on Monday, June 11, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (37)

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