Let Us Now Praise Authentically Stiff Politicians


Brendan Nyhan thinks we spend too much time yakking about which candidates are “authentic” and which ones aren’t. For example:

George W. Bush and Al Gore were both born into powerful political families, but were perceived very differently. Mr. Bush successfully reinvented himself as a down-home Texas ranch owner despite being the son of a president with elite New England roots, while Mr. Gore was widely mocked as a phony who grew up amid wealth and power in Washington, especially when he invoked his childhood work on his family’s Tennessee farm. Again, one simple explanation for the disparate treatment they received is that Mr. Bush was a better political performer.

I would remind everyone that Brad Pitt gets paid millions of dollars for doing a very good job of pretending to be authentically charming. The ability to feign authenticity is called “acting,” and it’s a lucrative profession if you’re good at it.

Was Al Gore authentic? Hillary Clinton? Mitt Romney? Sure. Gore is genuinely sort of wonkish and stiff. Hillary is earnest and cautious around people. Romney is careful and detail-oriented. That’s authentically who they are. If they studied up and adopted a hail-fellow-well-met persona, everyone would think they were authentic, but they’d just be pretending.

If you prefer politicians who are bluff and emotional in public, just say so. If you can’t stand being around people who natter on about policy and guard their private lives, say so. But cut out the “authentic” nonsense. That’s not what this is about.