Authentic (adjective) 1. not false or copied; genuine; real --Random House Dictionary
"It's the real thing." --slogan for Coca-Cola
I feel sorry for Mitt Romney, Barack Obama too. In the next six months these two men will compete for the Presidency of the United States, perhaps the most powerful job in the world. With the push of a button a President can start a nuclear war. With the right speech he can rally a country. With the stroke of a pen as she signs a law she can change millions of lives. A great President can lead the secular salvation of a nation. Think FDR or Lincoln. But in 2012 there is one thing both candidates for Commander in Chief seem powerless, or unwilling, or both, to do.
That is to be real. Be really real. Be themselves. Go off script. Be true to whom, at their core, they finally are and embody what they believe in and what they truly hold dear. Tell the truth. Be the truth. Be authentic.
That’s why Romney gets my sympathy. Candidate Romney often comes across as uncomfortable in his own skin, awkward, even desperate to please whatever group of voters he stands before. Romney can appear tentative, grasping to figure out just who he is supposed to be at any given moment. Then the press (liberal and conservative) pounds him for being “stiff”. Then his political machine counters that hey, he really, really is a great guy, really, down to earth, real. America just has to get to know him. Romney can’t seem to win this fight.
As noted in a recent Salt Lake Tribune article by Peggy Fletcher Stack: “The Mitt Romney…on the campaign trail is often depicted as wealthy, wooden and out of touch…gaffe-prone, detached, distant.…But Philip Barlow, a counselor and friend to Romney, when he was a Mormon leader in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and early 90’s, counters: ‘Asking [Romney] to appear more informal is ironically asking him to become less authentic so that he can appear as more authentic. We ought to allow him to be who he is and make our judgment on that basis.’”
Allow a candidate to be who he or she is and then make a judgment on that basis alone: there’s an idea! To vote for an authentic man or woman: no gloss, no façade, no smoke and mirrors. To expect our leaders to be real.
Remember the “beer summit” early on in Obama’s Presidency? This is what it looks like when politicians are forced or choose to be inauthentic, fake, false. An African-American Harvard professor is arrested by a white Cambridge police officer. Obama honestly weighs in. The media explodes and so these three men then have to gather on the back lawn of the White House in shirt sleeves to drink beer together and make nice, all for the cameras. Awkward. So clearly an act. That day I felt pretty bad for the President.
What might it look like if voters and the media empowered our Presidential candidates to be authentic? What might happen if we worried less about whether or not a candidate is the kind of person “we’d like to drink a beer with” and demanded instead a candidate who could just do the job and do it well? A President not as image or press release but a flesh and blood person, neither super heroic nor a political anti-Christ, just human.
Liberals might then give the President a break and allow him to be the political moderate he finally is. Conservatives might give Romney a break and allow him to be the political pragmatist he finally is.
Romney critics might finally accept that Romney is a very wealthy, highly successful businessman, a squeaky clean straight arrow family guy and a committed Mormon. Wearing jeans and rolling up his button down shirts won’t change him. Obama critics might stop beating up on the President for lacking “fire” and accept that Obama is professorial at heart, thoughtful and smart and more committed to crafting attainable solutions than partisan people pleasing or smarmy glad handing. Drinking a beer in the backyard won’t change him.
Then maybe these two real people could run a full bore honest debate through to next November about the future of the United States and who is best qualified to lead us. We’d all get to vote for an authentic person to be our next President. No artifice. No media spin. No political machinations or myth-making.
One of the best gifts my faith gives me is the call by my Creator to be authentic, to be real, to be both the good and the flawed human being I am. Or as Hamlet said in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, “This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I know this hope for presidential candidate authenticity is radically counter to our multi-billion dollar presidential campaigns with spin doctors and image creators scrambling to present their candidate as “real”, and a press talking so much more about appearances and style than real issues. The voters who hope to drink a beer with the President don’t help much either. Could we go any lower in our presidential expectations?
The huge problems our nation and world face call not for actors on a stage, but leaders in the real world. So President Obama and Governor Romney, here is my unsolicited advice to you both as the campaign begins: to thine own self be true.