In my post on March 31, I wrote that from the voter’s perspective, it is often difficult to determine which of the candidate’s stories are real and which are the fabrications of consultants, handlers, or spin doctors.
When I searched for documents about authenticity and politics, I came across an article in the magazine Men’s Health from October 2008, written during the US presidential campaign leading up to the election between Barack Obama and John McCain.
Danny Strong, the author of the article, makes the case that, in an American presidential race, the most authentic candidate will win, no matter how great his flaws. He cites the case of Bill Clinton, whom he calls a flawed candidate because of his reputation for womanizing. Why did the salacious revelations of the tawdry Gennifer Flowers not sink the Clinton candidacy in 1992? According to Strong, it was simply because the candidate never claimed the “moral high road” or preached family values. Had he tried to promote a platform with moral overtones, his story would not have been authentic, and the American public would have labeled him a hypocrite. Instead, they accepted him as an adulterer, and his woman-chasing never seemed to diminish his popularity with voters.
Similarly, in 2000, George Bush defeated Al Gore mostly because he told a more authentic story. Gore came across as an uptight intellectual with little sense of humor, a man visibly not comfortable with himself. Bush, on the other hand, emphasized his down-home Texas roots, calling himself a simple man, a religious straight talker who relied on gut and instinct rather than intellect. Compared to Gore, he simply seemed more at ease with his story. The American electorate forgave his lack of smarts and his mangling of the English language, since he never presented himself as a brilliant scholar.
Interestingly, all this can be a question of perception, and one observer’s authenticity can be another’s manipulation. When I searched for information about Bush’s image as an “authentic” Texas cowboy, some of the links I found made the case that Bush’s tales of Texas were more an example of story spinning and scenario management than a genuine story.
Here is one example of a web link that “exposes” Bush’s Texas stories as mostly manipulation: Bush Drops Fake Cowboy Shtick. For this writer, George Bush was never a cowboy. The ranch had nothing on it, no cows, no farming, just a lot of brush that Bush “pretended” to clear. According to the author, the ranch was nothing but a political gimmick. It was purchased so that Bush could play the role of the Texas cowboy when in fact he was an upper-class Northerner who attended the country’s most posh prep schools and then its finest universities.
So, was Bush’s Texas cowboy image authentic or a masterful work of “story spinners”? Whether you choose to believe the tale or see it as political manipulation may depend on your own political slant. As I say, in politics it is difficult to know. What do you think?
Thanks for the Post, John.
Perception is reality, isn’t it.
Isn’t this also why there are investigative reporters? Too bad one of them didn’t go to the “ranch” and expose the truth.