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The “Authenticity” Tautology

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Authenticity is inherently meaningless as a criterion of value. Departures from tradition that improve something are no vice; upholding unworthy traditions is no virtue. Often, the concept is at least harmless despite being useless. But when it comes to political punditry, it’s actively pernicious:

Is Hillary Rodham Clinton not presenting her true self to voters? As with candidates like Mitt Romney and Al Gore, claims that she is inauthentic have fueled endless cycles of negative coverage of her campaign.

In reality, all politicians are strategic about the image and behaviors they present to voters. Some just hide the artifice better than others.

The refrain that Mrs. Clinton is calculating and inauthentic has recurred throughout her political career. During this campaign cycle, reporters and columnists have already questioned who the “Real Hillary” is, said that she “wrestles with the authenticity issue,” and described just being herself on the campaign trail as “a tricky proposition.” The Daily Beast’s Mike Barnicle reflected the conventional wisdom in writing that the “nagging question” that “won’t go away” is “Who is she? Really, who is she?”

The “authenticity” game is one candidates can never win once they’re in the trap, and who cares anyway?

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