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Jeffrey Feldman Headshot

To Heck With 'Authentic,' America Needs 'Pragmatic'

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If I see one more article about 'authenticity' and the presidential election, I am going to scream.

But lately, "authenticity' is all we ever hear about the current crop of presidential candidates. Some people say Hillary Clinton is not authentic enough. Some say Barack Obama is authentic. Mike Huckabee says he's authentic. John Edward's says he's authentic, too. Other people say Giuliani is authentic, while some say Thompson is authentic. Lots of people say McCain is authentic.

Forget 'Authenticity,' Americans Should Demand Pragmatism

Want to know what I say? To heck with authentic! Americans don't need another 'authentic' president or another political debate obsessed with 'authenticity.' For the past two terms this country has been hoodwinked by a snake-oil salesman who passed himself off as 'authentic,' and distracted by a media obsessed with it. What we need -- and what voters and the media should be buzzing about incessantly -- is which candidate is the most pragmatic.

To put it bluntly: either the next president of the United States ushers in a new era of progressive pragmatism or we are all doomed.

Out with authenticity! In with pragmatism! That should be the battle cry of a nation yearning to breathe free of way too many elections dominated by false concerns with authenticity.

Think about it. What does it even mean for a presidential candidate to be 'authentic'? Does it mean we really believe that the person we see on stage, repeating lines that they have practiced for months, with make up on their faces, in staged photo ops, saying words developed by teams of campaign specialists -- that person is really real, the real McCoy, the actual person that we see.

Of course not. If it's authenticity you crave, go to a museum. You won't find it anytime soon on the White House campaign trail.

George W. Bush is a classic example of how useless the 'authenticity' test is in presidential campaign politics. America has never had a more duplicitous, lying, law-breaking, Constitution-undermining, Geneva-Convention-subverting all around dishonest president ever. And he has been elected twice on the carefully constructed sales pitch that he was 'authentic.' If authenticity had any meaning at all prior to George W. Bush's presidency, Karl Rove took care of the rest in two deceitful and divisive campaigns.

'Authenticity' Is a Smokescreen

Under the smokescreen of 'authenticity,' Bush has turned the idea of what is really real in American politics upside down. Bush speaks in a manufactured 'authentic' voice intended to mimic the cadence and diction of Middle America, but then passes policies that turn people who actually do speak that way into military corpses and bankrupt families. "I speak just like you," he's said for seven years running. "So, give me your money and go die in my war."

Authenticity is nonsense and, in an age dominated by the policies of George W. Bush, it has become dangerous nonsense.

Give all this, it is high time for Americans to dump 'authenticity' as the test for choosing a president and embrace a much better test: pragmatism.

Want to shake up the race for the White House? Try saying this to the next person who tells you that this or that candidate doesn't seem 'authentic' to them:

"Authentic? Who cares! This country has been obsessed with authenticity for too long already. What I want to know is which candidate is the most pragmatic? That's the one I'm supporting!"

'Pragmatism' is actually a time-honored American idea that reconnects us with a long-lost period of American history. It connects us up to great American thinkers, including Charles Pierce, William James, and John Dewey. In the U.S. Presidential election, pragmatism boils down to this very basic question:

In real terms, how will life for all Americans improve as a result of you being elected President?

According to the logic of 'authenticity,' George W. Bush promised that his presidency would bring a new era of civility, fiscal responsibility, and cautiousness in foreign policy. But in real terms, how have are Americans different as a result of George W. Bush being elected President?

In real terms -- not 'authenticity' gibberish -- George W. Bush as president has left all Americans afraid in three distinct ways.

We are afraid of terrorism.
We are afraid of getting sick.
We are afraid of becoming poor.

Some of us are unfortunate enough to be burdened constantly by all three of those fears, but all Americans have been impacted by at least one -- the pragmatic consequence of George W. Bush as president. We can say that Al Qaeda contributed to the first fear, but the second two are all Bush.

A New Era of Pragmatism

But what about the new crop of candidates? Forget for a minute (or forever) which one of them is the most 'authentic' and ask ask the pragmatic question instead:

In real terms, how will life for all Americans improve as a result of [INSERT NAME OF CANDIDATE] being elected president?

Ah hah! That is the conversation Americans want to have. Forget who is authentic and who is not. We need pragmatism.

What problems will you solve such that the life of every American will be changed for the better? Tell me how.

What economic initiatives will you promote such that the life every American will be different? Tell me how.

What foreign policy initiatives will you launch such that every American will be effected? Tell me how.

What environmental solutions will you advance, such that every American will be impacted? Tell me how.

After eight years as president, how will the life of every American be better than it is today -- specifically?

My goodness! What a ride it will be from now until November 2008 if the presidential election is dominated by pragmatic questions that usher in a new era of American progressive pragmatism -- a new age of actually working on solutions that achieve America's future in a way that makes it better than the past -- for everyone.

Authenticity is so last year, so George W., so not helpful.

To heck with 'authentic.' What America really needs -- what America has always needed -- is pragmatism.

Cross posted from Frameshop.