“Authenticity” became the press corps’ favorite buzz-word in 1999, along with its silly handmaiden, “comfortable in his own skin.” And let’s state the obvious: When the press corps adopted such subjective markers as key standards of measure, they were giving themselves the right to tell whatever story they choose. It’s perfectly easy to shape a narrative in which any candidate is most “authentic.” As long as our standards of measure are so subjective, there’s no real process of assessment being conducted at all.
Right. And assertions of “authenticity” are not only feeble tautologies that are worthless as criteria of value. As Krugman points out, this focus — with the focus on the haircuts of John Edwards being the most recent example — on balance cuts strongly against progressive politics. Although there’s no reason that a wealthy person can’t advocate policies that help the poor — FDR came from considerably greater means than Reagan — suddenly any politician with lots of money (i.e. any politician who could be a serious national candidate under the current system) can be tarred as “inauthentic” if they propose progressive economic policies (although a rich actor renting a pickup as a campaign prop is good enough for a Republican to be “authentic.”) Not only is the Dowdian transmutation of political coverage into gossip and meaningless personality narratives bad in itself, in other words, its overall political effects are not random but reactionary. Which is why the behavior of people like Dowd and Frank Rich in the 2000 campaign is considerably more damaging than Fox News.