Friday, November 11, 2011

Oy, Bai

But we do expect them to really believe in the things they propose — to have the requisite conviction to know and recite with passion the basic policies that someone on their team stayed up nights to craft. Say what you want about Mr. Bush, but no one ever doubted his deep well of resolve on tax cuts or education reform. He had command of his own plan, if not all the underlying data.
Remind me: what exactly did it get George W. Bush that everyone (supposedly) thought he was "authentic"??? George W. Bush, in case Matt Bai has somehow forgotten, was a massively unpopular president. And he probably somewhat underperformed in the 2004 election against (supposedly) inauthentic flip-flopper John Kerry.

I mean, if you think about this for more than a second, it's obviously just silly. George H.W. Bush, the guy who invented snack preferences just for a campaign (not to mention flip-flops on issues from abortion to taxes to taxes again) as more authentic than Mike Dukakis? Did Americans think that Dukakis was presenting a phony persona of a boring technocrat, and that's why he lost to Bush? Of course not.

Rick Perry wasn't hurt because making a fool of himself on TV undermined his authenticity, as Bai proposes; he was hurt (assuming he was hurt; we don't really know that for sure yet) because he made a fool of himself on TV.  Sometimes, it isn't actually more complicated.


  1. If the "most powerful commodity in American politics" is authenticity, I'd really like to hear Bai's explanation for why Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.

  2. It says a lot about our political press corps that the person with perhaps the most obviously fake public persona in the modern era could be widely considered to have "authenticity" as one of his strengths. I mean, New England-born Texas good-ol-boy? Speaks with a drawl that no one else in his family has? "Regular guy" who has had rich family friends bail him out of everything he's failed at, and hand him every success? Has a "ranch" with no animals, bought when he started running for office and sold immediately once he stopped?

    How stupid do you have to be to *still* call that "authentic"?

  3. I know you frequently make fun of Bai's columns, but this one really takes the cake. It's easily one of the silliest pieces of political analysis I've ever seen in a mainstream publication.

  4. what exactly did it get George W. Bush that everyone (supposedly) thought he was "authentic"???

    Um... it got him elected president. Twice.

    After all, if he was so unpopular, why did he get reelected? Was it because of his sterling record of economic recession, terrorist attacks and bungled wars? Was it because of his wildly popular policy proposals for his second term, like social security privatization? No. It was because he (with the media's assistance) made the election into a who-would-you-rather-have-a-beer-with contest. That's what Bai means by "authenticity."

  5. One of the things I dislike about Bai is how he makes these grandiose blanket statements about “everyone” that just aren’t true. He's not just wrong, he's easily proven to be wron. It's like he's not even trying anymore.

    Hey Matt, I actually doubt and doubted that W had a “deep well of resolve” on tax cuts and education reform. I think there’s a very good chance he embraced the former policy to do well in the nomination process and the later to soften his image and appeal to more moderate voters in the general election in 2000. Oh and the fact that cutting taxes is the bread and butter of the GOP and conservatism in general and “reforming” education (whatever that means) is also popular with moderate swing voters and influential Democratic Senators probably helped move him along a bit. The fact that a Republican President was able to pass a popular tax cut through a largely GOP controled Congress is not evidence of a deep well of resolve, putting that money into debt reduction or Al Gore’s Social Security “Lock Box” in the face of intense conservative opposition might have been though. Maybe he did push for huge regressive tax cuts while Chenney and Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay and Trent Lott screamed “NO! Think of the deficits!” but I doubt it. So there, at the very least not “everyone” shares your opinion on The Decider.

    @Klyopod after reading your comment I now feel embarased I took the time to write that.

  6. We don't know yet that this wasn't the final nail in his campaign's coffin? What is there to wait for?

  7. Oh, Bai has a point here, make no mistake. If Perry hasn't got command of his own talking points, as to which 3 cabinet level departments he'd whack, then that's a problem. It indicates a lack of immersion in the process, or worse, a cram session level of immersion that resulted in a brain fart.

    The candidate has to know his own base positions, and recite them with conviction. And yes, Kerry flip flopped right in the middle of the campaign, in direct contradiction with his own base, and the Independents saw it for themselves. Rove's moles were sitting in front of multiple screens, surveiling Kerry's campaign like vultures, and when Kerry popped up in front of the Grand Canyon flip flopping, wearing denim, the vultures' jaws dropped. The guy reinforced their base premise about Kerry's candidacy... and they couldn't believe their good fortune. And the campaign ads appeared in about a nanosecond.

    Dukakis was always authentic. The problem was just that he was an authentic northeast lefty tax-and-spender, and had zero chance of defeating a 3rd Reagan term, no matter which clodhopper was sitting on the top of the ticket.

    Perry was likely already dead in any event, and this brain fart just sealed it. His chances are likely down below multiple other candidates, at this point.

  8. I've always thought that what the media meant by W's "authenticity" was actually what most people would call "cynicism." They mocked Gore because he was earnest, loved Bush because he shared their cynicism about the voting public and the political milieu. One of the funniest examples of the media's real notion of "authenticity" in Bush's case was the 2000 campaign's microphone gaffe -- where Bush called a NYTimes reporter an "ass****." Almost to a man, whether excusing or condemning, the media reported this as an example of plain spoken honesty, when in fact it was a wonderful, inadvertant peek behind the practiced, professional false front employed by a man who had spent time in the public eye since childhood.

    The media, in praising W's honestly, completely ignored the fact that he wasn't speaking honestly to the reporter's face (as a "straight-shooter" would do), but, instead, spoke, with the expectation that he couldn't be heard (to someone other than the person he was insulting) from behind a grinning, jiving mask of professional friendliness and fake, lying body language.

    That's not authenticity or honesty. That's acting, and cynicism.

    That bit of video made me laugh when I saw it because I instantly recognized Bush's fake, aw shucks just folk body language as something that had been demonstrated to me years before. My first boyfriend, like Bush the son of a man in the public eye, who had found himself, at times, as a child pressed into service in front of the public (his father starred in a popular 1950s children's show and was long under contract to Disney) had shocked my still-teenage and much less sophisticated self by demonstrating how he and a friend, another actor's son, had cynically amused themselves at promotional events by responding to the false friendliness of powerful adults with the innocent grins, polite handshakes and friendly body language that was demanded of them while, at the same time, muttering profane insults ("f*** you you son of a b****). His point was that, knowing that the friendliness of the adults was false and their interest in him and his friend feigned, they also knew they could get away with saying outrageous things -- the adults didn't care and weren't listening to what they said.

    That's cynicism. A kind of cynicism that W, who spent a lifetime exposed to political games, observing how power corrupts and how people are willing to suck up to power and demean themselves in the process, as well, I'm sure, to people who were trying to play him, often revealed that he shared that kind of cynicism. It would be a miracle if he didn't.

  9. One of my main memories of the Dukakis campaign was his "Snoopy" photo in the tank. I wouldn't call that very authentic. I do think some Americans place a disturbingly high value on "authenticity"


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