Authenticity is a rather subjective concept. Attempts to define it usually wind up running around in circles:
This eye-opening but muddled volume tells companies to remain true to self or, at least, to appear genuine, arguing that in a world increasingly filled with deliberately and sensationally staged experiences... consumers choose to buy or not buy based on how real they perceive an offering to be. Everything that forms a company's identity—from its name and practices to its product details—affects consumers' perceptions of its authenticity. Juggling philosophical concepts, in-depth case studies and ad slogans, Gilmore and Pine (The Experience Economy) run into trouble with a chapter called Fake, Fake, It's All Fake, which eviscerates the entire idea of authenticity: Despite claims of 'real' and 'authentic' in product packaging, nothing from businesses is really authentic. Everything is artificial, manmade, fake. The argument is unexpected and perhaps brilliant—yet rather confusing, since most of Authenticity argues that businesses should strive to not only appear authentic but to be so.
Authenticity is a particularly vexing concept when it comes to Presidential candidates. It is not exactly the same thing as honesty. Bill Clinton was perceived as dishonest, and yet somehow authentic. Arguably the reverse was true of someone like Michael Dukakis. Nothing about the image of Michael Dukakis wearing a military helmet makes Dukakis seem dishonest. But it did make him seem (to many people) inauthentic -- enough that this video may have changed the course of a Presidential campaign:
It occurs me that some of the strange behavior we've seen from the Clinton campaign in recent weeks is an effort to make her appear to be more authentic. James Carville, in a self-referential defense of his comments about Bill Richardson in today's Washington Post, comes out and says as much:
Most of the stuff I've ever said is pretty insignificant and by in large has been said off the cuff and without much thought to the potential consequences. That was not the case in this instance. Bill Richardson's response was that the Clinton people felt they were entitled to the presidency. In my mind, that is a debatable hypothesis. But, even more than that, I know that a former president of the United States who appointed someone to two Senate-confirmed positions is entitled to have his phone calls returned.
If Richardson was going to turn on the Clintons the way he did, I see no problem in saying what I said. Because if loyalty is one virtue, another is straight talk. And if Democrats can't handle that, they're going to have a hard time handling a Republican nominee who is seeking the presidency with that as his slogan.
What Carville is saying: So what if what I said was a little impolitic. Damn straight we were pissed off at Bill Richardson. But we're going to tell it like it is, because ours is the authentic campaign.
Does this sound familiar? It's similar to the defense that Geraldine Ferraro made about her comments on Barack Obama's race (source)...
COLMES: Did you recognize the possibility of being taken out of context?
FERRARO: Yes, I did, and I said — at the risk of being accused of being racist, I said — what I said, but it was a statement of fact, and that's it, nothing more and nothing less.
COLMES: What's your reaction to Hillary Clinton's comment? She said, I don't agree with it.
FERRARO: That's right.
COLMES: It's regrettable that one of our supporters has done this, has said things that veer off to the personal.
FERRARO: That's fine. I have to tell you, she had to respond. They were linking her to me. I was exercising my first amendment right. I had nothing to do with the campaign, and the fact that I was on a campaign committee — I think that David Axelrod saw this as — this is an opportunity. He did it with Clinton, but Clinton was talking to the national press. He did it with Rendell; Rendell was talking to the national press.
It doesn't work with me. I wasn't talking to the national press. They made this a divisive issue, not me.
...or, if you prefer, Ed Rendell:
"Just flip it for a second," Mr. Rendell said. "Let’s say Senator Clinton was ahead by about 110 delegates and ahead by less than 1 percent of the vote cast, and she and her supporters started to call on Senator Obama to get out. Just picture what the media would be saying. They’d be saying you’re being racist, you’re being everything in the world. It’s nuts! It’s nuts!"
This has been the Clinton campaign's defense for just about everything: We're just telling it like it is. We've stopped being polite; we're just being real. And they seem to make this defense so frequently, that one wonders whether the initial, controversial remarks are made precisely so that they can make this defense.
This line of argumentation, ironically, is anything but authentic: it has no doubt been focus-grouped and media-tested to the high heavens. But it is nevertheless potentially rather powerful, as it taps in to a couple of things -- backlash against the media and backlash against political correctness -- that can resonate profoundly in many corners of American society. It's the same shit that allows Bill O'Reilly to label his show the "No Spin Zone" and get away with it.
Of course, just as the Clinton campaign is quick to portray her campaign as authentic, they are just as quick to portray Barack Obama as inauthentic. Remember this?
Barack Obama is a fake, they're saying. Barack Obama is not authentic. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tail we've ever seen.
This comes especially to the forefront if you look at the sentiments of people who are really, virulently anti-Obama. They don't just want to defeat Obama; they want to expose him as as fraud. There are some people that are driven absolutely crazy by this.
Of course, what the Clinton campaign hasn't really been able to do is to get their candidate herself to be perceived as authentic. That's why something like Tuzlagate seems to have taken a toll on Hillary's polling numbers:
Hillary's comments over Tuzla were not just a little white lie. They were not just a big white lie, even. They went a step deeper, and called into question Hillary's authenticity. She was pretending to be something -- a kind of battle-scarred foreign policy hero -- that she was not.
And what about something like this?
That video is still probably the Rorscharch blot about how you feel about the entire Clinton campaign. And it's all about authenticity. For some people, this was the single most authentic moment of the Clinton campaign. For other people, it was the single most inauthentic moment.
This diary is not really meant as a hit piece, so much as it is intended to place different things into context. Hillary's campaign has tended to be successful when it has won the authenticity war, and tended to be unsuccessful when it has lost it. But this is a battle that her campaign team understands the importance of fighting -- and if we see more "strange" behavior coming from them in the proceeding days, this may be the reason why.