Monday, June 11, 2007

Political authenticity

I've blogged before about my irritation that the press brands John Edwards a hypocrite because he's rich but cares about the poor. They to the same thing to Al Gore because he cares about the environment but his utility bills are high. Take a look at what Paul Krugman has to say about this:

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.

Luckily, that’s not how the political game was played 70 years ago. F.D.R. wasn’t accused of being a phony; he was accused of being a “traitor to his class.” But today, it seems, politics is all about seeming authentic. A recent Associated Press analysis of the political scene asked: “Can you fake authenticity? Probably not, but it might be worth a try.”

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 higher taxes on the rich while being rich yourself. If anything, it’s to your credit if you advocate 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, consider the case of Fred Thompson. He 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 a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

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

Now, if you ask me, it's Thompson who's the hypocrite.

I wish the John Edwards and Al Gore naysayers would look up the expression noblesse oblige. Basically, that means if you're privileged, you are obligated to help those less fortunate. I was brought up on that principle and it used to be a standard in polite society. How selfishness got exalted as a virtue in the public square is utterly beyond me.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:31 PM

    These image stories remind me of when Richard Nixon's handlers were trying to improve his image. They suggested a casual walk along the beach of his San Clemente home. It was too bad that no one told Nixon to take off his black wing tip shoes before his casual stroll. Marilyn


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