Mitt Romney and the Fallacy of Political “Authenticity”

by Rich Yeselson on February 13, 2012

I think all you pretty much need to know about the alternative directions Mitt Romney’s possible presidency might take can be distilled into four words:  “Democratic party”, uttered in an interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace from December of last year, and “Democrat party” spoken just a couple of weeks ago on CNN to Soledad O’Brien as part of his already famous, “I’m not concerned about the very poor” episode.

More on those four words shortly. Meanwhile: most election observers aren’t like me.  They don’t think that a few words can adequately reveal the totality of Mitt Romney. It seems as if they all want to know who he really is. The authenticity obsession about Romney has become a national, wasteful pursuit like the Iraq invasion and occupation without the laughs. Two reporters from the Boston Globe have written a biography entitled, The Real Romney.  In it, they describe the horrific head on car crash and its aftermath which Romney, the driver, survived while in France on his post graduate Mormon mission. The wife of Romney’s religious mentor died in that crash. It marked, the authors intone, a “turning point” in Romney’s life.  Sure—how could a trauma like that not deeply affect him?  But…how exactly? Frank Rich opines in New York that, “We don’t know who Romney is for the simple reason that he never reveals who he is.”  But that doesn’t stop Rich from concluding that Romney’s Mormonism is actually Romney’s Rosebud, specifically his attitude towards the Church’s reactionary, historically racist, currently homophobic politics.  Romney has repeatedly pledged a loyalty to his faith as unshakeable as that to his wife of 42 years—surely this must be the key to understanding the man.   But how can we really—that word again—know for sure?  Romney also mystifies the Times’ David Brooks. But it’s easier to find a bottle of Jack Daniels in Salt Lake City than it is to uncover the real Romney.  Brooks confesses that “I don’t actually know what kind of person Romney is.”  Citing David Riesman’s classic, The Lonely Crowd, Brooks fears that Romney is the embodiment of an “other directed” modern man, someone “less notable for having a rigid character than for having a smooth personality.”

Of course, there’s nothing Romney-specific or partisan about the modern quest for the essence of presidents and presidential candidates. In a culture of celebrity, presidents are, well, presidents. No less than camping in Antarctica, it’s dizzyingly counter-intuitive for most of us to imagine having the combination of chutzpah, strategic savvy, and abiding self-love to believe that one could both be elected president and, indeed, deserved to be elected president. It’s not at all surprising that we long to know more about these seemingly remarkable people.  They must be different from us, but how so, exactly?

Barack Obama wrote two rich books about his life. Nonetheless, since 2008, there have been dozens of books and articles speculating about the real Obama. Kenya/Indonesia/Hawaii/mixed race/community organizer/strange sort of Muslim name:  Who could ever know with this guy—yet we just had to know. Even today, people ponder whether Obama is “really” a centrist deficit hawk, a progressive in the tradition of the Roosevelt’s, or, as one conservative biographer called him, a “stealth socialist.” Or go back to Lincoln, who inconveniently deterred his biographers by failing to leave behind a diary and then getting assassinated before he could write a memoir.  No new sources have been discovered in decades.  Yet new interpretations keep being churned out.  The Lincoln never before revealed—depressed, gay, a victim of Marfan’s syndrome.  Finally, the real Lincoln!

All of this is a crock.  We—the astute writers noted above, and pretty much everybody else too—are fetishizing one of modernity’s most potent fantasies: that there is a deeply internalized “authenticity” which dramatically reveals our true, inner selves. Yes, we want to know, truly know, who these people are and who can blame us? And the task of excavating this “authenticity” seems especially urgent in the case of those few who wish to be our president.  But we’re on the wrong track and we’ve been on it for a long time.

Still, we look for the key—a child’s sled, undiagnosed depression, an absent Kenyan father, an auto crash, a religious zealotry so destabilizing it can never be discussed.  I’ve got my theory, too, about Romney.  But it has to do with the public words of a very publicly significant person and his weighing the necessity of propitiating various constituencies, not the authentic nucleus of him which remains just beyond our ken.  I can summarize my theory in those four words I noted at the outset:  “Democratic party” from December, and “Democrat party” from just six weeks later.

Romney’s first remark, from the interview with Chris Wallace, read as follows:

WALLACE: Are you prepared for a long, bitter primary battle all the way to the convention?

ROMNEY: I — I hope we don’t have that, but my guess is that — that’s certainly a possibility.

We — we now have adapted the Democratic Party’s approach for allocating the — the early delegates on a proportional basis. And we watched what happened when the Democrats did that. Their primary process went on for a long, long time. (Emphasis added).

Pretty straightforward.  Romney, the technocrat’s technocrat, at least as Massachusetts governor, is referencing here a procedural change that first, the Democrats, and, then, the Republicans made in their nomination processes, respectively. Procedural changes are important, but pretty bloodless and obscure to most people. And different organizations with very different missions can employ similar procedures. So Romney adopts the neutral language of social science and calls the Democratic Party by its commonly understood name—the Democratic Party. To link here the Democratic Party with the Republican Party is simply to acknowledge a structural feature of the American political system, its two major parties. Romney knew a lot of Democrats in Massachusetts and they are probably as unfrightening to him as a plaintiff’s attorney is to a defendant’s attorney in a civil courtroom.  If Romney were running to be the president of Massachusetts, the one who says “Democratic party” would the “real Romney.”

Fast forward six weeks later on CNN and Romney has just gotten himself into a pickle about his plutocratic insensitivity to the poor.  But the interviewer, Soledad O’Brien, has also pressed him hard about whether he can consolidate the support of Tea Party and ultra-conservative Republican voters.  It seems to her he is also having trouble connecting to the vast middle of the American electorate.  So what does Romney do?  He tries to make himself the paladin of the mainstream middle class and depict the Democrats as the whining advocates of those marginal “others.”  He sneers, “….we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor…” And then, “But my campaign is focused on middle income Americans.”

“Democrat” party is a slur that rightwing Republicans since Joe McCarthy have been using to belittle Democrats.  It’s awkward and ugly to say (try it), and it removes from Democrats the right to have their party called by the name they have designated for it—like when white commentators used to insist on calling Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay.  And the word itself is a noble one. People like Rush Limbaugh and, for a time, George W. Bush, before House Democrats called him on it, didn’t want Democrats linked to the word democratic. It would suddenly sound very jarring and disrespectful if Democrats and liberals regularly referenced something called the “Republic Party”, but contemptuous conservatives have been doing the equivalent for decades. (Hendrick Hertzberg wrote the brief, but definitive analysis, of the history and psychology of the “democrat” party slur in the New Yorker in 2006).

Above all, to say “Democrat party” is to identify with movement conservatism as it is spoken and written outside of Washington, DC, in what used to be called the fever swamps of America’s right wing.  Bill Buckley, as Hertzberg points out, didn’t say “Democrat party” and explained why.  Even the super cynical, human Obama stop sign, Mitch McConnell, doesn’t say it.  McConnell is a senior member of the permanent Senate government, and those solons just don’t talk like this.  But Sarah Palin says Democrat party.  Limbaugh and his listeners say it.  Every “Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist who I saw poisoning all the dogs and a couple of elderly white people in my neighborhood late last night” blog in the country says it. And Romney, a technocratic wonk with a couple of Harvard degrees, said it the other day because he wishes to win the support of this bloc of voters, essential to anybody seeking the nomination of the Republican party.  So when Romney used this insult the other day, he declared the party of Jackson, FDR, and John Kennedy an essentially un-American blight on American life.  But then what happened to the Democratic office down the hall which shared its employee policies with its Republican counterpart?

So does Mitt Romney’s scorn for the Democrat party reveal who the real Romney is?  No.  Not anymore than his anodyne reference to the Democratic Party just a few weeks earlier did.  Whoever he is, the real Romney is mostly irrelevant. Romney, like all of us, performs the roles he must within the public institutions he inhabits and the different dramas which he plays a part in enacting.  There are reasons why he performs on the stages he does—he’ll never be any kind of liberal—but he doesn’t just play the same character every time. Each of those institutions will have a different set of observers with which the individual engages. The audience, venue and dramatic script shape and constrain our public performances.  To perform the wrong script at the wrong time is entirely possible—and a contradiction between verbal and non-verbal cues often occurs—but significant social costs will then accrue to the performer. Even famously “conviction” driven politicians like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush or Paul Wellstone behaved in a manner that could only be socially interpreted—once an individual’s “inner direction” engages in a variety of externalized, relationally-defined episodes, the protocols and rules systems of those episodes channel the behavior of even the most willful actors. This is the great insight of Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, which is, like The Lonely Crowd, a landmark work of 1950s American sociology. Goffman’s brilliant, if ruthlessly unsentimental, work pretty much undermines all of the romantic prattle about authenticity from Rousseau to the latest self-help scheme.  The performer isn’t necessarily trying to deceive the audience (although sometimes s/he is).  Rather, he or she attempts to intuit what a given audience is expecting in a given situation. Employing Goffman in this way is itself a conceptual shortcut, a heuristic device designed to properly frame, at least, what we are trying to understand about presidential politicians.  But it places our judgments in the realm of the socially interactive, rather than the reductively psychological, and thus seems like a more fruitful way to apprehend likely political outcomes.

People are what they do, and part of what presidential candidates must do is project a fully integrated depth of being before multiple audiences. Romney’s political problem—his poor job performance as a professional politician—is that he has an almost poignant difficulty in managing to do that. His inability to merely fake the “realness” that people hunger for reminds me of what was once said about former Texas Governor, and Democrat turned Republican John Connally:  he is the only man in the world whose real hair makes people think he’s wearing a toupee.

What is relevant is that if the Democrats somehow retain the Senate and even return to a House majority and the country elects Romney, President Romney will talk a lot about “working together with the Democratic party.” And he’ll probably cut some deals pretty similar to those that he made when he was the Republican governor of a Democratic state. He will support a lot of terrible public policy, but he won’t swerve entirely into Jim DeMint country. But if Romney increasingly worries that he could lose the nomination to a rage generating fifth tier candidate like Rick Santorum, he’s going to lambast the poor-coddling, religion hating “Democrat party” over and over again.  And if he survives Santorum, and he and a Republican Congress sweep to victory in November, he will use his majorities to roll thru an ultra-right program of tax cuts for the rich, and reductions in government transfer payments for everybody else, and he will appear to be deeply alarmed about gay marriage and the federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood.

We will probably never find out who the real Romney is, just like we haven’t found out who the real Obama or the real Lincoln is. And it won’t matter what he is not telling us about his Mormonism or how many nightmares he’s had about that terrible day in Beaulanc, France in 1968.  But who controls Congress will matter a lot as to whether we see the Romney who basically agrees with Obama about health care, but just wants to figure out a way not to tax his own class to pay for it, or the Romney who will abolish Obama’s health care reform bill, defund the EPA and the NLRB, and redistribute money from the elderly and the poor to the rich. That is a play we should never want to see performed. I can’t make it any more real for you than that.

{ 90 comments }

1

Manta1976 02.13.12 at 4:44 pm

Part of the analysis I fully agree with, but I don’t agree with the conclusion (abotu what Romney policies would be), for the following reason: by examining Obama’s speeches and votes, many would not have expected to vote for a right-wing extremist (aka, “centrist”, by present standards) in regards to legal rights for accused, presidential powers, and wars; using your analsyis, one would have concluded that (independenlty from his “true beliefs”), given a democratic majority, he would have rolled back many of Bush’s policies; instead, what Obama true belief are turned out to be pretty important; the fact that he likes/want to wield absolute power determined his policies more than outside constraint, like who is the party in power in Congress.

2

Bruce Baugh 02.13.12 at 5:04 pm

Rich, good stuff! I’ve just added to my reading list, and found a lot to chew over. Welcome, and looking forward to more from you.

I was thinking about a “yes, and” kind of comment, and Manta’s observation spurs me to go ahead and write it down.

Manta, I think that we could have seen more of Obama’s actual policies coming if we’d paid more attention to who he was getting advice from. The people who did, and warned of trouble much like we ended up having, and whom I tended to dismiss as pessimists and alarmists, turned out to be pretty right on. It doesn’t require any real insight into what the full interior life of a person is to get a good handle on what news and perspectives they’re emphasizing by virtue of whom they choose to keep company with.

It is of course not impossible for a leader to rise above their advisors in moral determination and wisdom. But it’s unusual enough that we don’t have to give it a lot of consideration until and unless it actually happens. The safe bet will be that, regardless of what the individual might dream of doing if detached from the web of society, their actions will reflect a whole lot of what’s flowing around them as advice and interpretation.

3

Manta1976 02.13.12 at 6:01 pm

I agree, Bruce (moreover, an important part of a leader’s job is choosing his advisers and subordinates: already Machiavelli pointed this out, saying that the “goodness” of a leader often consists in choosing good advisers. However (from what I’ve heard: I can be wrong, and your conclusion would be different if you don’t agree with this premise), Romney’s advisers are pretty “centrists” and competent, which (should) induce me to conclude that Romneys policies would also be pretty centrist and competent, even in the presence of a Republican majority in Congress (with the above caveat about the meaning of centrist in the present context).

4

SB 02.13.12 at 6:06 pm

I agree completely with the analysis of Presidents and people occupying political or bureaucratic roles. I have thought for a long time it explains everything about Obama and anyone who is confused about that has to think about what it would be to go to your meetings at the NSA or CIA or the Pentagon and then be surrounded by people engaged in a very long term project of empire protection–what do you say to them? How do you work with them? Are you really going to get them to re-think their project, fire people, transform their goals? Multiply that times every agency–they take you, show you their listening devices, the mountains upon mountains of intelligence, the scary, scary (possible) terror plots cooked 5 or 10 years ago they claim to have thwarted. We all hope we wouldn’t sign onto that project. To the extent the unceasing moral criticism on whoever does sign onto it. But I think it’s kind of naive to think we’re going to get a president that isn’t going to do that.

Being head of the Empire and all that protects it is now Obama’s job and it’s going to be the job of every President.

I had an acquaintance who had been mayor of a large city and I was eating lunch with him and a friend of his who’d just become head a major law enforcement agency–and he told his friend that it was almost impossible to make the decisions you thought you’d make beforehand–that the office overtakes you and you start to become the office. I think he’s much more self-aware than many people in those executive positions. Do any of these political autobiographies ever contain that type of self-reflection? Does anyone here know?

What I’m not getting is how all this undermines the idea of authenticity. If some are inauthentic or if inauthenticity is not possible in some contexts, do we have to conclude it is not possible at all?

5

Dave Maier 02.13.12 at 6:08 pm

Re: “Democrat party”: I’ve also heard that the USA is “a republic, not a democracy” – none-too-subtly encouraging us to associate those un-American blue-staters with mob rule or Jacobinism or some such.

6

LFC 02.13.12 at 6:22 pm

People are what they do, and part of what presidential candidates must do is project a fully integrated depth of being before multiple audiences. Romney’s political problem…is that he has an almost poignant difficulty in managing to do that.

Part of Romney’s “problem” is that he sometimes sounds, at least to me, as if he doesn’t actually believe the lines his speechwriters give him to read. This is a serious problem that I think not even Richard Nixon — another politician who wasn’t very good at “project[ing] a fully integrated depth of being before multiple audiences” — had to quite the same degree.

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LFC 02.13.12 at 6:28 pm

SB@3:
You suggest the OP tries to undermine the idea of authenticity. No, I think it just argues that the idea is irrelevant in this context.

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hardindr 02.13.12 at 6:45 pm

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David 02.13.12 at 6:54 pm

Glad to see Goffman mentioned. I was introduced to this work in a grad seminar in 2005 and have been recommending it ever since.

As for authenticity, I have had a hard time with this ever since hearing a late night commercial for “genuine faux-Naugahyde” over 30 years ago.

10

geo 02.13.12 at 7:10 pm

Brilliant post, Rich. Couldn’t agree more that the quest for authenticity is a dead end. In fact, that’s putting it too kindly — it’s a red herring. The absurdly disproportionate focus on candidates’ personalities is yet another aspect of the multi-sided manufacture of consent. To the extent the electorate is wasting (necessarily scarce) mental energy following pundits’ speculations about the personal psychology of candidates, they are not devoting that mental energy to analyzing issues and learning facts. Which suits the major parties and their ruling-class owners just fine. A distracted, dumbed-down electorate is a prerequisite of a debased, purely formal democracy.

Does the ruling class judge candidates this way? Do they care a toss whether, in seeking their support, presidential candidates “project a fully integrated depth of being”? Please. The Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the major industry associations, when they deal with the candidates’ top representatives ( want to know: “Where do you stand on issues x, y, and z? This is what we want from you; can we deal? You know, don’t you, that any commitments you make to us we are going to monitor very closely, and we’ll let you — and other powerful groups whose support you may seek in future — know if we’re not satisfied?” Until ordinary people — organized into groups, of course — are in a position to deal with candidates this way, straightforwardly, unsentimentally, and without a trace of concern for “authenticity,” we’ll always wind up suckered, as we were with Obama.

11

washington irving 02.13.12 at 7:12 pm

I’ll admit that I too heard Romney drop the “tic” and smiled at the obvious pander. However, I will disagree with the “real Romney” and “real Obama” bits. I come from the Molly Ivins school, which states that to know what a politician will do in office, just look at his/her record at the previous job he/she held. This theory perfectly predicted how George W. Bush would govern despite all the campaign’s happy-talk about “compassion” and so on.

Similarly, if you read the Ryan Lizza piece on Obama’s record in the New Yorker from back in 2008, you could have predicted exactly how Obama would govern, Congressional Republican majority or otherwise.

If we’re wondering how a President Romney would govern, I would suggest we look at his record too.

12

Bill Benzon 02.13.12 at 8:01 pm

As George Burns said about acting, “The key to acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

(I suppose you can find that many places, but I ran across it in this interview with Walter Murch: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/02/07/josh-melnick-and-walter-murch-in-conversation/#comments )

13

Gabriel Rossman 02.13.12 at 8:49 pm

I follow politics pretty closely but I’ve never heard or understood it to be a slur or dog whistle to omit the last syllable of “Democratic.” Rather it seems like just a clumsy malapropism and when I hear it I think “the speaker is tongue-tied” not “the Democrats are un-American.” Honestly, this semantic distinction as the dramaturgical reveal seems like grasping at straws.

14

Yeselson 02.13.12 at 8:58 pm

You really ought to read Hertzberg’s brief analysis of the origins and continued use of the “Democrat Party” slur. He actually dates it back before McCarthy. This is a rather well known trope of late 20th-early 21st century conservatism–note that Bill Buckley had to acknowledge how common it was to say and write the use of Democrat as an adjective in order to, then, rebut the slur. The speaker is certainly not “tongue tied!!” It’s harder, almost counter-intuitive to say use “Democrat, rather “Democratic” as the modifier. And it would be quite striking, don’t you think, utterly remarkable really, if ***only*** conservative Republicans had been making the same “clumsy malapropism” over the decades!

15

Omega Centauri 02.13.12 at 9:07 pm

I think the authenticity troupe, is more about the needs of the media, than a genuine need of the electorate. The media need to make the audience personally identify with (or perhaps against) a candidate, as a person. Otherwise an indiferent audience will simply flip the channel. So they need “authentic” candidates who will give the media “interesting” characters to portray. Of course they often help to define “authenticity”, or the lach thereof. Damaging the chances of a candidate (think Gore) who doesn’t fit their needs for authenticity, is just a way of pushing the system into selecting candidates that fit their own needs.

16

politicalfootball 02.13.12 at 9:11 pm

People are what they do

Vonnegut’s formulation of this fits Romney nicely: “We are what we pretend to be.”

17

Uncle Kvetch 02.13.12 at 9:19 pm

Romney’s political problem—his poor job performance as a professional politician—is that he has an almost poignant difficulty in managing to do that.

Just try to imagine Romney producing a Gingrichism like “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood” without some kind of twitch or grimace or patently forced attempt at a “gotcha” face. But Gingrich can do it and maintain his absolutely perfect, straight-faced composure as if it were the most banal statement imaginable. Likewise, Rick Santorum can draw the direct line from the Democratic Party to the guillotines of the French Revolution without skipping a beat.

It’s not enough to say that 2+2=5 — you’ve got to sound like you mean it (authenticity again!). And Romney stinks at it.

18

Uncle Kvetch 02.13.12 at 9:20 pm

I think the authenticity troupe, is more about the needs of the media, than a genuine need of the electorate. The media need to make the audience personally identify with (or perhaps against) a candidate, as a person. [...] Damaging the chances of a candidate (think Gore) who doesn’t fit their needs for authenticity, is just a way of pushing the system into selecting candidates that fit their own needs.

Good comment. This can’t be stressed enough.

19

Marc 02.13.12 at 9:46 pm

You mean Frank Bruni, not Frank Rich, correct? Because Bruni is wretched in many, many ways that Rich is not. He’s profoundly shallow, an enthusiastic cheerleader for the very rich, and a godawful writer.

20

Meredith 02.13.12 at 10:31 pm

I’d underscore Rich Yeselson’s distinction between, on the one hand, the modern quest for “authentic character” undertaken by lazy journalists and opinion writers on behalf of an audience conditioned to hopelessly essentialist notions of character (a quest documented relentlessly by Bob Somerby@dailyhowler), and, on the other, those voters who do weigh a candidate’s character understood as praxis, as ethos, as a pattern(s) of decision-making and behavior — even if these voters often phrase their evaluation in terms of “sincerity” or “authenticity” (especially when answering reporters or pollsters who have framed their questions in those terms).
For instance, it seems to me that many voters in the Republican base are seeking, in the complexity of Romney’s statements and positions over time — a complexity they are often willing to accept and engage — a certain ethos, a pattern of decision-making and action that would give them grounds for supporting him (especially in light of the constraints actual governing will inevitably impose — see SB@4). Understandably, voters in that base are troubled when they see a pattern of action in Romney’s history that doesn’t correspond to his use of phrases like “Democrat party.” Some more moderate Republicans and Independents, however, may find that very lack of correspondence (aka, lack of “sincerity”) reassuring (“He doesn’t really mean the crazy nonsense he’s been spouting lately; he’s just appeasing the base till he’s nominated and then till he’s elected”), while others may be bothered (as I am) by what they discern to be only one sure pattern in Romney’s history of deciding and acting: service to his own election prospects, his own personal wealth, and the plutocratic class.
I don’t need to understand (even if I am mildly curious sometimes) why Romney is who he is, which is to say, why Romney tends to do as he tends to do. Journalists and opinion writers should be “telling” candidates’ “stories” not as dime-store novelists would but as the great novelists would: praxis, patterns of action at work in specific situations and a variety of situations, over time. (Maybe if more people read/watched better fiction, our political discourse would improve.)

21

Phil 02.13.12 at 11:04 pm

it would be quite striking, don’t you think, utterly remarkable really, if ***only*** conservative Republicans had been making the same “clumsy malapropism” over the decades!

I’ll take your word for it, but how does this work in terms of the overtones? What’s the difference between the connotations of ‘Democratic’ and those of ‘Democrat’? I could understand it if the speaker was implying that the Democrats claim that theirs is the only small-d small-p democratic party, and using ‘Democrat Party’ to stress that ‘Democratic’ is a label rather than a description, but that doesn’t seem to be in the mix. Or is it something to do with the sentiment I’ve heard, mainly from survivalist and goldbug types, about the USA being a republic and not a democracy?

22

More Dogs, Less Crime 02.13.12 at 11:11 pm

I never got the big deal about whether someone includes the “ic”. I just thought, “the members of the party are called Democrats, hence the Democrat party”. The Whig and Tory parties were named after a term used to refer to individuals rather than a political ideal, although in keeping with the slur-interpretation those individuals were brigands. I would think that “Republic party” would sound better, because more Americans like “the Banner Hymn of the Republic” than like actual Republicans.

politicalfootball, that was Vonnegut? I had been crediting different people when I quoted that.

23

Gabriel Rossman 02.13.12 at 11:18 pm

Yeselson,

I’m genuinely surprised that this rather petty semantic distinction is so well-established among the talk radio types. I’m going to fall back on saying that it’s a not terribly effective rhetorical trope and that many people who hear it probably interpret it as I did, which is as a malapropism rather than a deliberate slur (albeit a mild one as political insults go). However that doesn’t matter for your thesis which is that it is revealing that Romney adopts this shibboleth to affirm allegiance to movement conservatives. We can agree on this issue and its relevance to your dramaturgical take, even if we bracket the question of whether the rhetorical device registers with and/or affects swing voters.

24

Meredith 02.13.12 at 11:32 pm

Maybe you had to be there, which is to say, be of a certain age. But when Senator Bob Dole, in a debate with Jimmy Carter in the 1976 campaign for the presidency, called WWII a “Democrat war” (in that sneering tone of his that had doomed Bob Dole from the start), Dole alienated many voters from three generations: the generation that fought that war, their parents, and their children.
Nothing innocent about it. The kind of hate-mongering on the American right that we’ve gotten all too accustomed to. But in 1976, to hear such right-wing fringe talk in the mouth of Republican senator, who’d lost the use of an arm fighting in WWII (no less), during a nationally televised presidential debate: well, in those days, we as a nation were still capable of being truly shocked.

25

Jim Harrison 02.13.12 at 11:53 pm

Words have jobs as well as meanings. From the outset, the job of “Democrat Party” was to insult the opponent. The meaning of the phrase is as irrelevant as the meaning of “cunt.”

26

Bruce Baugh 02.14.12 at 12:11 am

Jim’s got a point. “Democrat Party” is a term to use when you’re a right-winger who wants to talk about Democrats in that tone. (Though I think the meaning of “cunt” and why that carries such different insult connotations than “cock” or “dick” is very relevant, in some contexts.)

27

nick s 02.14.12 at 12:28 am

It’s the hard -t ending, the caesura, the colliding stresses and the deliberate ungrammaticality that make it a prosodic weapon. ‘Republic Party’ doesn’t match it at all.

28

Tony Lynch 02.14.12 at 12:48 am

Could Rich please let me know something: If authenticity is a red-herring, what becomes of sincerity? And if sincerity doesn’t matter, then what becomes of democracy (voting for someone who says this is what I’ll do/not do – and so asking me for my vote?) Is modern democracy – assuming it possible under circumstances in which what I say is not necessary – even relevantly – what I mean (if I mean anything) – dependent on sophisticates structural/historical.functional analyses of the kind the post offers? And if so, then God Help Us, for it won’t happen…

29

Jeff R. 02.14.12 at 12:49 am

You know, anyone whose ever used ‘teabagger’ has really lost any possible right to complain about ‘Democrat Party’…

30

Graham Shevlin 02.14.12 at 1:32 am

I doubt that authenticity is totally irrelevant, otherwise we would not have heard all of the bizarre talk from 2000 about how George W. Bush was “the kind of guy you could go have a beer with”. For some reason that I cannot fathom, electorates want to have it both ways. They want an effing genius to run the country (and by the way, they expect this effing genius to do it on a salary that wouldn’t keep most medium-sized-corporation CEOs in briefcases), but they they expect him or her to be a regular guy? This probably explains why they keep swinging and missing when electing presidents…

31

Jawbone 02.14.12 at 1:42 am

his attitude towards the Church’s reactionary, historically racist, currently homophobic politics.
_______________________

It would be nice if we could agree to either omit noting this about Mormons (what institution isn’t ‘historically racist’) or be consistent and note it about Muslims.

32

nick s 02.14.12 at 1:58 am

You know, anyone whose ever used ‘teabagger’ has really lost any possible right to complain about ‘Democrat Party’…

Ahem.

33

Substance McGravitas 02.14.12 at 2:01 am

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shah8 02.14.12 at 3:11 am

I think authenticity is a red-herring as well.

The primary issue, I think, is that the Republican base, for all intents and purposes, are cargo-cultists. What they want is a person to perform the money’nharmony dance so that good things will happen to the followers. Given this lack of sophistication by such people, it is foolishness to look very far from the Mormonic root of Romney’s problems. Bob Dole, as an example of someone who is lacking in charisma, had no such issues with gadfly candidates hanging around getting popular and dropping out. Huntsman, the other Mormon, was one of the only contenders, if you could call him that, who never benefited from being Not!Romney!

This is not to say that Romney doesn’t have performance issues, no, but what I will say is that Romney had to be almost as good a candidate as Obama was, in convincing people, that his religion doesn’t matter. However, imagining Republicans as a gaggle of women checking out which romcom to check out, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is disappointment that show wound up delivering a Ben Stein that shouts his Nice!Guy devotion to the world, rather than George Clooney landing a loose wrist on the waist, and murmuring a half joke only the love interest could hear…

Thank goodness a certain nincompoop from MN ran out of money, early, before he could be a danger to the country…

35

Alan 02.14.12 at 3:52 am

To all those above who think that vocabulary is trivial or impertinent, you wildly overestimate the reflective character of the movable electorate to get beyond emotional political nomenclature. There is thus every good practical reason for stupid particular talking points of repetitive vocabulary, and none for big-picture rational argument in terms of getting the vote out. So if e.g. I call a piece of your writing “pedantic”, then I might not only be wrong but even if I’m right you might have written better elsewhere. The -ic is usually indexical with confined context of reference. But calling one a “pedant” is more universally descriptive and ascribes negative properties more persistently. The Republicans see even more contrast between the mildly approbative “democratic” and the monolithic “democrat” with the ellipsis insinuated “demonic liberal socialist” reinforced for the noun by the far-right media 24/7.

With an attitude more in keeping with that of the Limbaughs, Gingriches, Santorums and Romneys of the world, I suggest referring to them as “Republicants”–as in can’t think for myself beyond what I’m told by FOX, can’t help those in need, can’t refuse the demands of the rich, can’t help the middle class, can’t recognize the rights of women, can’t see the equality of same-sex relationships, can’t see beyond some religion’s demands on science and society, can’t can’t can’t. Thus the party of NO.

36

John Quiggin 02.14.12 at 4:03 am

@19 Where did Frank Bruni come from anyway. I read a couple of columns, vaguely thinking it was Frank Rich, but no more – even Brooks is better.

37

John Quiggin 02.14.12 at 4:12 am

Coming back on topic, I think the OP comes a bit too close to the idea (either from Goffman, or an epigone) that a person is just the set of roles they play.

That overstates the case, and Obama provides a pretty good example. I don’t think it was possible, on the information available to the general public (including his appointments and so on), to predict that he would ramp up the security state in the way he has, particularly with his vindictive pursuit of whistleblowers. In particular, I don’t think the extent of it was necessitated by his position/role. He could have chosen otherwise, and would have done so if had “really” been the person he presented as a candidate. So, if it was possible for a reporter or analyst to perceive the “authentic” Obama and show him to us, we might have had more realistic expectations.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the question of “authenticity” typically comes up precisely in the context of candidates who really are doing nothing more than playing roles, successfully or otherwise.

38

Sebastian 02.14.12 at 4:25 am

“Democrat Party” is like “pro-abortion” or “anti-choice”, or “Bobby” if someone prefers Robert. It signals disrespect by not calling people what they call themselves. But it also doesn’t really register to political non-junkies.

39

Keith 02.14.12 at 5:12 am

It sounds like Presidential voting is a kind of wager where no one really knows what they will get. Putting lots of reliance on the character of a candidate is pointless when you cannot really know some ones character unless they are your husband, wife, friend etc And how they treat you as friend or lover does not control what policies they apply to others when in power. It neglects the role of social structures in deciding how state policy evolves. You can see it as a justification for a Parliamentary system where explicit ideology is more the reason for voting one way rather than another. Direct election of presidents or mayors e.g. the mayor of London, just produces a obsession with irrelevant personal traits like how some one speaks or which candidate has more illegitimate children at a given election.

40

Lee A. Arnold 02.14.12 at 5:24 am

Hertzberg has it wrong. Where I grew up in New Jersey, Democrats would say, when asked how they would vote, “I’m voting Democrat.” Nobody in their right mind would have said “I’m voting Democratic”. That would sound “affected”, as they used to say: you are wasting time on a useless syllable. Why would you waste time on a useless syllable, if it don’t provide poetic rhythm? If it’s not rhythmic, then it’s not like song, and if it’s not like song, then you shouldn’t be living anywhere near Philly… It sounds affected out here in Los Angeles, too. I myself am a member of the Democratic Party. If somebody asks me, “Do you support the Democrat Party?” I reply “You’re damn right I do. Do you think I am going to vote for the goddamn Plutocrat Party?” I know exactly what they mean, and they know exactly what I mean. Of course, I also think it’s fine and truly righteous to call the healthcare reform “Obamacare” and I frequently refer to the President as BarryO (my own appellative invention). That is because he’s my Man… Rmoney is NOT my man. It is easy to know who the real Mitt is: he is somebody who wants to be President desperately. That is not so glib; many character traits naturally follow. But he is running in the wrong party. He is a middle-of-the-road technocrat who is trying to win with a party that has entered into an historical cul-de-sac, as follows: (1) because their economic ideology (programmed by Reagan) is false and has begun to collide with reality; (2) because they have sold this ideology to their only reliable voting base, so they must keep up the pretense that it is true; and (3) because the welfare state is going to get a little bigger, not smaller — big enough to cover universal medicine. Rmoney knows these things, he’s not a total dope. Maybe he figures that he can use the Republican Party to parlay himself into the Oval Office, from which he could then reconstruct the party, and thus gain true and historic glory. Or should it be “historical”? …Yes, yes, and after that, he will square the circle! …It’s a tragedy really, but you have to laugh. He should have voted Democrat.

P.S. to John Q: About a month ago, I predicted that Santorum would have a brief ascendancy. Because he’s the only sincere one, if you discount Ron Paul. Everybody laughed. I didn’t write it down though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

41

Meredith 02.14.12 at 5:24 am

42

Dave 02.14.12 at 6:01 am

So in other words, “It’s not who you are on the inside, it’s what you do that defines you.” And, Congress matters.

I’m not sure if I got that Batman Begins quote exactly correct. But I think the basic point remains.

43

Lee A. Arnold 02.14.12 at 6:19 am

Meredith #24 “when Senator Bob Dole, in a debate with Jimmy Carter in the 1976 campaign for the presidency, called WWII a “Democrat war” (in that sneering tone…”

I remember some Democrats saying “Yeah, and we WON it…”

44

LFC 02.14.12 at 6:25 am

Meredith @24
I recall the Dole remark (on WW2 being a “Democrat war”) now that you mention it. But if he said it in 1976, it would have been Dole in a debate with Mondale, Carter’s running mate, b/c it was Carter-Mondale vs. Ford-Dole. Dole didn’t get to the top of the ticket until 20 years later: ’96, when he lost to Clinton. (Could the remark in question have been from a Dole debate w Clinton in ’96? I’m not sure and I’m too tired to check.)

45

dsquared 02.14.12 at 7:44 am

@19 Where did Frank Bruni come from anyway

Restaurant reviews. What do you think I’m lying or something? He was the Rome bureau chief nearly ten years ago according to Wikipedia, but basically restaurant reviews.

As far as I can tell, the idea is that as the circulation of the New York Times drops, it puts more and more emphasis on its one remaining profitable operation, the lifestyle section. Sooner or later, the readership will decline to just one person, who will have to buy vast quantities of designer clothes and artisanal foodstuffs every day, to make the economics work out.

46

Chris Bertram 02.14.12 at 7:46 am

I too think the OP is overstated. Yes, “being authentic” is a role that politicians can play in subservience to the expectations of their audience. That doesn’t undermine the idea that some people (not particularly politicians) have behaviour that is more centrally shaped by the expectations of others than the behaviour of some other people is. Some people are more concerned to please than others are, etc. Whether there is a big division among leading members of the political class on this dimension is a further question: maybe pliability to expectation is inherent in the role.

47

roger 02.14.12 at 10:48 am

I, too, like Democrat. It is meaty, populist, threatening – everything that the technocrats and revolving door pols who run the Democratic party hate. I mean, it is very hard to go from advising the Pres to Citibank, like many a Democratic advisor, if they meanly call you a democrat – much better if you are democratic. Then you are on the way to using democracy in all kinds of creative ways – like Tom Friedman’s trope about the ‘democratization’ of the stock market because the government used the power of deregulation and tax deductions to sluice money from wage earners to their enemies, wall street hedgefunders, via IRAs and 401ks in the Great Moderation, otherwise known as the Era of the Royal Rooking. Democrat still retains enough sting that the rightwing crowd thinks of it like, oh, gangbangers or something. Which shows that the word is doing something right.

48

The Tragically Flip 02.14.12 at 12:10 pm

That so many readers of this blog are in denial or unaware of the deliberate use of “democrat party” by the right speaks to its subtle effectiveness. Some claim that ordinary voters don’t hear the problem/insult. That is the genuis of the thing,it is a sort of dog whistle meant to be heard by a select crew, that includes Democrats, the right wing base, but not the median voter. That makes Democrats look petty if they should call attention to it. For the median voter, it denies Democrats the positive connotations of being democratic, and the end of the word being “rat” shouldn’t be ignored either.

49

Matt McIrvin 02.14.12 at 12:43 pm

I could understand it if the speaker was implying that the Democrats claim that theirs is the only small-d small-p democratic party, and using ‘Democrat Party’ to stress that ‘Democratic’ is a label rather than a description, but that doesn’t seem to be in the mix.

Conservatives who consciously use the phrase have explained to me that this is more or less their rationale. They don’t want to imply that the Democratic Party is somehow the party of democracy. (Of course, “republican” has the same property of being a more generic adjective, but in the US it’s a less emotionally loaded one.)

Mostly, it works as a subtle tribal marker: “I get my phrases from right-wing sources, like a good person.”

My one way of retaliating is to refuse to use “GOP” (why should I refer to the Republican Party by an affectionate epithet when its proper name is available?)

50

Matt McIrvin 02.14.12 at 12:50 pm

Democrat still retains enough sting that the rightwing crowd thinks of it like, oh, gangbangers or something. Which shows that the word is doing something right.

Nobody objects to being called “a Democrat” as a noun; that’s the correct term. It’s specifically the adjectival use, as in “Democrat party”. I’ve heard speculation that part of the intent is to imply that it’s not a political organization but just a bunch of Democrats having a party. I do like the idea of just reclaiming it. “Yeah, we’re the Democrat Party! You got a problem with that?”

51

Barry 02.14.12 at 1:02 pm

Manta1976 02.13.12 at 6:01 pm

” I agree, Bruce (moreover, an important part of a leader’s job is choosing his advisers and subordinates: already Machiavelli pointed this out, saying that the “goodness” of a leader often consists in choosing good advisers. However (from what I’ve heard: I can be wrong, and your conclusion would be different if you don’t agree with this premise), Romney’s advisers are pretty “centrists” and competent, which (should) induce me to conclude that Romneys policies would also be pretty centrist and competent, even in the presence of a Republican majority in Congress (with the above caveat about the meaning of centrist in the present context).”

Did you ever hear of George W. Bush?

52

Barry 02.14.12 at 1:08 pm

dsquared: “As far as I can tell, the idea is that as the circulation of the New York Times drops, it puts more and more emphasis on its one remaining profitable operation, the lifestyle section. Sooner or later, the readership will decline to just one person, who will have to buy vast quantities of designer clothes and artisanal foodstuffs every day, to make the economics work out.”

Seconding. Look at the lifestyle sections of the NYT, and you’ll see a section marketing to the rich, with lavish, full-page color ads for very expensive things. Those ads have got to cost a lot of money – or rather, bring in a lot of money, from the NYT’s viewpoint.

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politicalfootball 02.14.12 at 1:21 pm

So, if it was possible for a reporter or analyst to perceive the “authentic” Obama and show him to us, we might have had more realistic expectations.

Even today, there are people who argue that the real Obama is sympathetic to civil liberties and open government, but circumstances have forced his hand. Or something like that.

My own best guess is that Obama himself didn’t know during the election the directions in which his authentic character was going to lead him. I think, for instance, that he really did want to shut down Gitmo, but decided that politics didn’t permit that.

By their acts, you shall know them.

54

Meredith 02.14.12 at 1:42 pm

LFC, yes, of course you’re right. It was in a debate with Mondale that Dole sneered about WWII as a “Democrat war.”

55

Tim Wilkinson 02.14.12 at 1:44 pm

Perhaps the Woody Allen route: ‘Democrat-ish’?

À propos not much, authenticity is very special: so long as you’re trying to be authentic, you’re more or less guaranteed not to succeed. This is not quite the case with sincerity, friendliness, etc. (Counterexamples could be devised by sufficiently well-motivated and gruellingly-trained analytic philosophers, but would I think have to involve personal discontinuity – engineered born-againness – such as is involved in self-hypnosis, deferred penitence etc.)

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14All 02.14.12 at 2:06 pm

This is an insightful article, but I think the majority of the voting public does have an awareness, whether conscious or not, that a personality is to some degree a set of roles. However, what we as voters seem to hunger for is someone who has the strength of will or character to not always respond as scripted. While we may feel severely constrained in our daily lives by the various roles we play, we hope that someone who is to be “the leader of the free world” will have the gumption to resist the tide when he gets into office, if it would be for the right reasons.

Where Mitt fails so dramatically in creating his public persona is that, if anything, he comes off as more trapped by others’ expectations of him than the average slob, not less. This is particularly remarkable considering he’s never in his life been constrained by the one overarching need that most of us must contend with–the need for physical survival, for cold hard cash.

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theophylact 02.14.12 at 2:46 pm

I’m gonna start speaking of the “Replicant Party” (“Yes We Can [be Mistaken for Human in Poor Light]“).

58

Manta1976 02.14.12 at 3:18 pm

Barry: Bush is an idiot, and people knew he was an idiot even before electing him; the same cannot be said for Romney or Obama.
However, I should have added: after having chosen good advisers, a leader should also make sure that they work for him (and not, for instance, to increase their personal power).
Moreover, the biggest Bush mistake (Iraq war) was a centrist bipartisan enterprise: the Iraq Resolution passed the House 296-133 and the Senate 77-23 (from Wikipedia).

Politicalfootball: do you think that when Obama declared that he would protect whistle-blowers, he was also sincere, but politics forced his hands? To me, it seems quite clear that he was openly lying…

59

Lee A. Arnold 02.14.12 at 4:12 pm

I also think that Rmoney’s problem is indeed “authenticity” as a fake commodity, in the specific sense that many U.S. Independents basically discount the ideological content, and vote for the personality. (Not all of them, of course, but most of them perhaps. And of course “Independent” shouldn’t be capitalized either, because it isn’t the name of an organized party. But they are the swing voters, and they decide almost all elections.) This is the origin of the “Do you feel you can have a beer with the guy?” test question. Mitt, you will have noticed, comes across as creepy nervous and stiff, a flunked study in telegenics, bit as if Christopher Lee had played Dracula as channeling the personality of Michael Dukakis in an old Hammer film. So as soon as he says something insensitive and uncaring — like “In Transylvania, we don’t worry about the serfs” or like “I am a SEVERELY thirsty undead person” — then the Independents are all, like, rolling their eyes, and are saying, like, “No! We cannot live with this guy for the next four years!”

60

G. McThornbody 02.14.12 at 4:15 pm

Yet new interpretations keep being churned out. The Lincoln never before revealed—depressed, gay, a victim of Marfan’s syndrome. Finally, the real Lincoln!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34x6m-ahGIo

Looks real to me. If only we had someone like that running for president again. We also need another Vice President named Hannibal. The government would be more authentic that way.

61

roger 02.14.12 at 4:38 pm

So, the upshot here is – we are supposed to ignore the fact that Romney strapped Seamus to the top of his car and took him for a 12 hour ride on various highways? When he could have easily bought a helicopter for the friggin mutt, given he has more money than God?
I’m sticking with the idea that personalities do have some token effect on policy. There’s no way that story doesn’t give us a guide to what Romney will be like as president. Down to the impatient hosing off of the poor beast.

62

politicalfootball 02.14.12 at 5:13 pm

Politicalfootball: do you think that when Obama declared that he would protect whistle-blowers, he was also sincere, but politics forced his hands? To me, it seems quite clear that he was openly lying…

My only intent was to echo Rich Yeselson: I don’t think it matters whether he was lying or not.

Any discussion of Obama’s deep, authentic self is going to be a little silly, but if you’re going to insist that I make a fool of myself, I’ll comply: Even now, I kinda think that, if it were cost-free, Obama would prefer to go easy on whistleblowers. His bureaucracy is loaded with folks who want to kill dissent and dissenters. And what’s his big reward if he fights the bureaucracy? He turns the bureaucracy against him without doing anything to endear himself to the dissenters.

But any search by me for authenticity is going to involve, in some fashion, projecting my values onto the subject, whether it’s Obama or Romney or Bush or Gingrich. In the end, that really doesn’t help me explain what’s going on.

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Shelley 02.14.12 at 5:17 pm

Although I’m a writer, I teach college as my day job, and I can tell you that for many young, poor women, Planned Parenthood is the only health care they get, the only doctor they see.

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Manta1976 02.14.12 at 5:32 pm

Politicalfootball, I partly agree with you (and with Rich Yeselson), but then there remains the open question: what criterion/a should one use to predict the behaviuour of a politician when in power? The part I agree with is that unlike Roger (and many people), I find the question of how he treats his dog/family or whether he cheats his wife (the “personality” issues, if you want) completely irrelevant (on the other hand, whether he lied about political facts I would find very relevant). In practice: Rich predicts that Romney, under a Republican majority, would govern quite from the right, while with a Democratic majoirty it would be quite centrist: on what basis does he give this prediction? Would he have given the same (but reversed in sign) prediction about Obama? Or Bush Jr.? If not, why?

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CK MacLeod 02.14.12 at 6:37 pm

Useful article, but mainly reverses and thus replicates the error that it seeks to correct: It goes without saying that every individual subjectivity is bottomless. The authentic self is a question for mystics or philosophers, but we can differentiate between different forms of presentation of the self that correspond systematically to different conceptions of the self politically and socially that are crucial to and distinguish competitive political ideologies. This is potentially the basis for a complex discussion, or for a number one, but an offhand statement in the main post frame the issue. The blogger says about Romney that “there are reasons why he performs on the stages he does—he’ll never be any kind of liberal—but he doesn’t just play the same character every time.” This is wrong. Keeping in mind that human beings are complicated entities and that no one or thing is ever all only one thing or another, Romney represents a very particular kind of liberal. He speaks or performs as the economic liberal or classical liberal, the liberal properly so-called prior to the emergence of social liberalism. He knows the principle of money and the free market, but the principle of money annihilates the public self. Its interest in the human character is mainly utilitarian – in no way “sympathetic” – and from every other point of view at least somewhat destructive. Social liberalism (Democratic broadly speaking) and social conservatism (Santorum) emphasize very different presentations of self. To state the obvious they are “social.” Romneyism is in this sense as nearly prefectly as possible anti-social within the bounds of “mainstream” politics: It displaces its irreducible social remainder onto other generally accepted sacred objects, typically the blessed nation of hyperpatriotism. The analyses of “Mormon economics,” but also Rich’s insight into Romney’s overdetermined concealment of his Mormon identity help explain how the “Romneybot” ends up with a transparently false salesman’s persona: It’s the reduced self adapted to free market capitalist purism, the stunted religion of “private equity” above all, which, like money itself, is generally transparent to the contents it proceeds to price. In other words, the economic liberal whose personality is another “private equity” is the human exponent of the universal equivalent, money, and approximates its mode of operation in his chameleonlike adaptability. Yesterday he was a social liberal, today he’s a social conservative. He doesn’t “really” care. He isn’t “really” anyone, at least as far as we’re concerned. And that’s who he is for political purposes and exactly how he comes across – as no one in particular.

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Earwig 02.14.12 at 7:37 pm

Obama’s campaign statement presented in Foreign Affairs magazine gave a very clear picture, and one quite at odds with the “Hope,” “Change” themes presented in mass public venues.

One might even have decided, having seen both of these presentations that there was something very inauthentic about the man.

Or, more reasonably, one might have concluded (ala geo at #10), that in the one case Obama was speaking to those for whom he recognized he would be working and that in the other he was just performing for us rubes.

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Jeff R. 02.14.12 at 7:54 pm

Nick & Substance @32 & 33: you appear to have missed the entire point of the OP, then. The origins and half-hearted embrace by a couple people aren’t particularly relevant here any more than it would be a ‘gotcha’ if there was a recording/transcript of FDR or Wilson clipping the ‘ic’. What is important is the insult in the speaker’s intent and the minds of the whistled-at dogs in the audience…

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Tedra Osell 02.14.12 at 9:45 pm

I find this really interesting, not only because I agree with it but also because, despite my agreement, I recognize that I am pretty invested in the idea of “the real” Obama and wondering if he’s “one of us” or not. In fact, I wonder if the broad “disappointment” so many people feel in Obama isn’t about this authenticity question: he did a great job of appearing “authentically” [fill in the blank], won the election, and then proceeded to do his job, which meant doing some things I (and others who voted for him) like and some we don’t. To which the response is generally to try to create some kind of narrative that saves the “authenticity” thing: either he’s “not authentically a liberal” or he’s “authentically liberal but has to compromise for political reasons.” Both of which arguments are important in terms of electability, but don’t really have much to do with actually running the country.

So now I feel all despairing about the naivety of American voters, or perhaps more properly the way that the American political system makes the presidency look like it’s about the person rather than the job.

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bh 02.14.12 at 10:01 pm

Rich, this is post is fantastic, and kudos to Henry for bringing him here.

As for the people either feigning ignorance or showing genuine cluelessness about the connotation of ‘Democratic party’ — neither option shows you in a good light.

Not only are we our actions, our slurs are the words we use in that manner. And believe me, no one over at, say, Redstate, has any confusion about what this means. You’ve either missed a dynamic that all political actors have understood for decades, or you’re acting strategically obtuse, I guess because it’s the Internet and that’s how a lot of people roll here.

A Democratic rep actually gave a whole speech on the House floor using ‘Republic party’ a few years ago. It was pretty awkward and ignorable — a clever gimmick alone doesn’t make much of a speech. But it did give lie to some of the silly claims to neutrality seen here and elsewhere.

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Hogan 02.14.12 at 10:14 pm

LFC @44: It was definitely in ’76, when Dole still felt comfortable with rolling out his nasty side in public. I think the actual line was “the four Democrat wars in this century.”

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Meredith 02.14.12 at 10:34 pm

Dole on “Democrat wars”:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n7QIDRBMfE

Among much written on this moment (then and since), here’s George Will (then), for heaven’s sake:
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19761025&id=3J8oAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OSkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4431,3194899

I’ve read (in places Google isn’t offering up easily now) that Dole immediately backtracked on the campaign trail.

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chris 02.14.12 at 11:31 pm

So now I feel all despairing about the naivety of American voters, or perhaps more properly the way that the American political system makes the presidency look like it’s about the person rather than the job.

Don’t hang this on the American political system — the Constitution and contemporary writings of the Founders are quite up front about Congress being in charge of policy in general and domestic policy in particular. We the people just choose to ignore the obvious and intentionally designed structure of our own government when it makes our widdle heads hurt to think about more than one person mattering to policy outcomes. So we interpret everything as if the President were the sort of absolute monarch our ancestors fought and died to prevent us from having, and everything that happens is 100% his credit or blame. (Well, maybe not natural disasters. Except for some people.) And then we go to elaborate lengths trying to figure out why he wanted the outcome that he “caused”.

Kremlinology is half BS at the best of times, but it only makes any sense whatsoever when the people in the Kremlin really are calling the shots. The POTUS, much of the time, isn’t.

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mdc 02.14.12 at 11:40 pm

I think you’re right, but the Rousseau-bashing seems gratuitous. Which of his writings do you consider “prattle”?

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ezra abrams 02.14.12 at 11:48 pm

I think that on TV, you have to smile; if you look at Reagan or Bush II, or even Clinton on TV, with the sound off, they are friendly.
Your brain processes what they say as words said by a friend.
If you remember the second bush/kerry debate, bush let the mask slip – after wards, there were comments in the usual intelligentsia publications about how in real life, bushII was a mean and nasty person.

I think that is a lot of Romney’s problem; there is no issue with a 1% who wanted to kill the auto industry going to MI and selling himself as a friend of the working man; the problem is that he looks *mean* when he says it.

I also think there is a chance that Romney is somewhere on the aspergers/autism spectrum – he is often described as cold and unable to read people, and obsessed with numbers…

As P Noonan is reported to have said when someone complained to her about Reagan’s “bloopers” -

so what, millions SAW him say it on TV, thousands read the correction the next day in the Times
(now, I’m not sure the Times would bother)

75

Bloix 02.14.12 at 11:59 pm

About Obama’s true nature, here’s what he said about Bradley Manning:

“We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.”

This is the Commander in Chief condemning a member of the military who at the time had not even been charged, much less convicted. A former law professor would understand what “fair trial” and “the presumption of innocence” mean, but Commander in Chief Obama doesn’t much care about that.

http://www.salon.com/2011/04/23/manning_10/

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Fred Fnord 02.15.12 at 12:45 am

You know, anyone whose ever used ‘teabagger’ has really lost any possible right to complain about ‘Democrat Party’…

Not to belabor a point, but this is such utter bullshit.

If you don’t see any difference between what private citizens choose to call other private citizens in the comfort of their own private conversations, and what politicians choose to call large segments of the populace when those politicians are campaigning for a position of power over (or already have a position of power over) those people, then you might consider spending a little time thinking about it.

Also, I’m kind of surprised that nobody brought up one of the major reasons ‘Democrat’ is used in this way: if you spit it properly, anyone listening can’t help but think of the word ‘rat’. Just a subtle little dog whistle… or, I guess, rat whistle.

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William Timberman 02.15.12 at 2:35 am

Historical anecdote: It was 1960, I was 16 years old, and going to high school in Lawton, Oklahoma. Somehow, our hotshot civics teacher got permission from the school and our parents to take some of us to Oklahoma City for a Republican Party state convention, to see how political parties really worked.

We got an eyeful. In addition to watching the plenary session, we got to roam the halls of the hotel room that evening. Young things in slips careening through the halls ahead of fat old men with loosened ties and a drink in one hand, lipstick smudges already on their jowls. A room full of cases of whiskey, with a young man at a card table handing out bottles (Oklahoma was dry at the time.)

The next morning we went into a small meeting room on the ground floor, ostensibly to be introduced to Henry Bellmon, the state party chairman (and later governor.) When we got there, he was already addressing a small group of earnest young men in suits: I want you all to remember this, now. It’s important. You never, EVER say DEMOCRATIC Party, you always say DEMOCRAT Party. We don’t want anybody getting the idea that they’re democratic. You all understand that? Nods all around. Well, okay, then….

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LFC 02.15.12 at 3:31 am

Hogan:
LFC @44: It was definitely in ‘76, when Dole still felt comfortable with rolling out his nasty side in public. I think the actual line was “the four Democrat wars in this century.”

Thanks. I remember the line quite clearly, just wasn’t absolutely certain it was ’76. Which is sad, in a way, since I was 19 in ’76 and it was thus the first time I voted in a presidential election. But I disliked Carter and voted for him very reluctantly, so maybe it’s just as well that some of the details have blurred… though Carter looks somewhat better in retrospect than he did at the time. I supported Fred Harris in the ’76 primaries, btw. Anyone remember him? His message about the evils of economic inequality was about 30 years too early.

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an adult 02.15.12 at 3:31 am

“Well Johnny I just don’t agree with you on that one.”
“My name is John, not Johnny”
“Whatever you say Johnny.”

Democrats don’t have to argue, and if they didn’t the insult would fail. But its meant as a goad. Can this now wnd this stupid argument.

On the post itself:
The argument seems to be that no one, not even the author, acts on principle, ever. Are we all no more than politicians?
No.

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G. Mcthornbody 02.15.12 at 3:41 am

I was mulling this over a bit more while I was at the gym earlier and I’m going to fall into the camp of “I do not think this means what you think it means.” The OP covers a lot of ground and some of my ideas probably won’t be as cohesive as I’d like. I’m going to nitpick at the noted six weeks change from democratic to democrat. I think it actually does reveal something about him as an authentic person. Romney is not an idiot, and he doesn’t spend his time with idiots. However, a large part of his base are idiots. He differentiates himself from the left by speaking an innocuous slur used by the gop. All sorts of cliques and groups do this. Romney desperately needs to to grow his appeal since Santorum, of all people, is somehow popular. What the words show is that Romney is stooping to gain appeal and is also really bad at pretending to be dumb. Now, there’s no way in hell he would say something like “these dang wetbacks and chinks and commies is stealin Merican jobs!” but the people he’s trying to appeal to would love it if he did. (thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/02/06/419235/pete-hoekstra-xenophobic-ad/) “Democrat” party suffices. Making 10k bets isn’t winning him any points and he’s trying to make up for that. I suppose he could have gone with “welfare queen party” but that’s already old hat. I don’t really mind Romney talking about the democrat party. How is he supposed to talk to this element of the gop? They aren’t reasonable, they hate facts, they can’t do math, they have no idea how Romney got rich, they hate that Romney speaks French, they hate Romneycare, they hate planned parenthood, etc. On the other hand, they love that Santorum was totally into wrestling and worked for the WWF, or WWE, or TNA whatever it is now. “Democrat” is Romney trying to show that he’s one of them, not some rich detached robot who doesn’t care about a good cage fighting match. What he is trying to portray to them is inauthentic, but revealing his inability to act like a doofus is authentic. You guys remember this one?

By how much the soul is more empty and without counterpoise, with so much greater facility it yields under the weight of the first persuasion. And this is the reason that children, the common people, women, and sick folks, are most apt to be led by the ears.

So uh, best of luck Romney? Maybe someone will like you more than Santorum?

@75 I’m going to disagree with you too. The term reminds me more of Frat Party! Woohoo! Who doesn’t want to relive those days where you all engaged in illicit drugs and sex for as long as you could before passing out? I say we bring it back and add some wife swapping. Newt would come for sure. He likes to share. He could blame threesomes on the liberal “democrat” party media. Problem solved!

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Lee A. Arnold 02.15.12 at 4:31 am

The comedy never stops: Now Rmoney, aware that any attack on Santorum could spoil his chances with the Republicant conservatives, is fielding a 30-sec. TV spot in Arizona, Michigan, Ohio that attacks Rick for being — wait for it — too liberal:
http://politicalwire.com/archives/2012/02/14/here_comes_romneys_super_pac.html

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JW Mason 02.15.12 at 8:28 am

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what argument this post is making. What is it that we are supposed to have learned from the fact that he used to say “Democratic” and now says “Democrat”? That his political choices don’t emanate from a true, authentic nature? But this, according to Yeselson, is axiomatically true of all elected officials. As he says, we don’t know the true Obama any more than we know the true Romney. So what does “Democrat” vs. “Democratic” have to do with anything? How would our, or Yeselson’s, view of him be any different if he’d used one or the other consistently?

And then there’s the end, which suggests that unlike presidents, members of Congress do have strong political allegiances. Why not take it another step, and say that the behavior of Congressional Republicans depends entirely on circumstances too?

The problem with this post, I think, is that it is trying to simultaneously argue that no politician has any core commitments, and that Romney has less core commitments than other politicians, so it sort of ends up wavering back and forth incoherently. It seems to be setting up an argument of the form, “elected officials are not guided by their own personal beliefs, but by…” but the implied argument is never finished; we never find out what the alternative to inner direction is supposed to be.

There’s a lot of rhetorical splashing of the oars here, but the boat isn’t going anywhere.

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Andreas Moser 02.15.12 at 9:36 am

Wait until people find out this shocking revelation about Mitt Romney’s past: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/true-identity-of-mitt-romney/

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Rjb 02.15.12 at 2:03 pm

Democrat:Democratic::Jew:Jewish. Whenever I hear someone say Democrat party, it rings in my ears as if they had said Jew lawyer, instead of Jewish lawyer.

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geo 02.15.12 at 4:59 pm

Mcthorn @80: Where is that quote from?

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Sev 02.15.12 at 5:18 pm

#69 ” It was definitely in ‘76, when Dole still felt comfortable with rolling out his nasty side in public.”

His (refreshingly) authentic side.

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G. Mcthornbody 02.16.12 at 7:06 am

@80
Montaigne. I like my tattered dogeared text, but you can find all of it at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm

He recycles Plutarch for his time. Look for Chapter XXVI “That It Is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity.” Careful though, the next line is “But then, on the other hand, ’tis a foolish presumption to slight and condemn all things for false that do not appear to us probable; which is the ordinary vice of such as fancy themselves wiser than their neighbours.

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geo 02.16.12 at 5:17 pm

Thanks, GM. I guess that explains why viewers of Fox News and readers of the Washington Post editorial page weren’t included in that list of the chronically bamboozled.

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NomadUK 02.17.12 at 11:06 am

Rjb@84: Perfect. Exactly right.

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JPL 02.17.12 at 11:14 pm

The anthropologist Leslie White (need I mention his political leanings?) always used to say that “the President of the United States is the most powerless man in the country”.

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