Obama's authenticity trap - Macleans.ca

Obama’s authenticity trap


One of the more pointless aspects of the whole BP spill fiasco is the ongoing debate about whether Obama’s reaction to the whole thing has been appropriate. Has he shown enough anger? Too much anger? Has he been too cerebral? Too dispassionate?Too uncaring?

Please.  The assumption that what is required, more than anything else, is authenticity is one of the most pernicious aspects of our political discourse. Of course Obama had it coming, to some extent, since his whole brand is “authenticity”. But now he, and the public, are facing the double-edged nature of authenticity as the litmus of leadership: we think we want authenticity only until we see it:

An article by Julia Kirby in the HBR does a good job of highlighting just what is wrong with this whole approach to leadership. Here’s the problem:

In the current criticism of Obama, we’re seeing another form of double bind, at least as difficult to navigate. Today Show’s Matt Lauer found him frustratingly cerebral, but how would the general public have felt if he’d been visibly enraged? As one writer, William Jelani Cobb, told CNN: “It would have fed deeply into a pre-existing set of narratives about the angry black man.”

To see the trap in action, you don’t even have to play the race card:

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Obama’s authenticity trap

  1. You seem to be forgetting the real crux of the matter – that Obama is a half-white Kenyan Nazi Communist who hates white people.

    • He's no Nazi, but he is half white, he is of Kenyan descent, he does have close ties to Marxism and was a disciple of the Marxist Alinsky and taught his methods, and he definitely hates white people. Have you read his books? He really, really hates white people; in fact, he dumped a girlfriend once because she was white.

      When he said the white policeman who arrested his black Harvard pal acted "stupidly" his popularity dropped among whites and has never recovered, because it confirmed their worst fears that he'd give black criminals a free pass and lead the hate whitey bandwagon.

      "his whole brand is “authenticity”"

      He's an affirmative action fraud and so is his wife, I'm not seeing the authenticity.

      • ya know, you're nuts, you know that?

        • You can always find someone on the internet to confirm your worst prejudices. You confirm a lot of mine for example.

          • now now, don't be coy – please do elaborate!

          • Liberals, when pwned, have only two responses (beyond the standard response of "that's racist/sexist/homophobic"):

            -that's stupid
            -that's crazy

            If you think you have found the elusive "third Liberal response to pwnage", please post here, though I won't hold my breath.

            In Canada, Liberals have lower IQs than Conservatives (easily inferred by demographic data, sort of like how we infer dark matter without even needing to see it) and vastly higher rates of mental health issues (women and gays are far more likely to have mental illnesses than straight men), as it happens.

            Liberals like using exclamation marks!!! To let you know they're hysterical!!!

            But seriously, Obama is in fact an affirmative action case, his wife is in fact one too, his numbers did in fact drop among whites dramatically when he screwed up the Skip Bates affair, and those numbers have in fact never recovered. Nothing crazy or stupid about it.

          • Well, the only other tools of persuasion we have are logic and the truth, but we've learned from experience that you won't recognise either.

            Tell you what. I'll entertain the possibility that I just don't understand you, on the condition that you admit the possibility that everything you say is either crazy or stupid.

      • Maybe his popularity among whites dropped because because they hate blacks?

        • How can they hate someone who, as your question suggests, was once popular with them?

          • That's an excellent question. As Bonkers explains it, Obama broke up with a white girlfriend because he hates whites, but if he hates whites, I'm left wondering how it is that he came to be dating one.

          • It's called "bonkers logic", as in logic that is bonkers.

      • Bonko, you are my favourite poster ever. I would rather read your comments than just about anybody's.

    • I'm so late to this, but really, does no one know parody when they read it? You made me laugh Mr. Argent.

      • Save for the Nazi bit, everything he said was true. Repeating a true allegation in a hysterically flamboyant manner doesn't automagically make it false, or parody, or ironic, or satire, even if salted with a single ridiculous reference ie Nazi.

        At best it is snark, ca-ca poo-poo humour, and even gay New Yorkers are getting tired of snark, as evidenced by the recent NYT bestseller Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, And It's Ruining Our Conversation.

  2. Mr. Potter, I think you may have fallen into a trap of your own. I don't think Obama's standing with the public is falling because he's not being authentic enough. It might be something that some in the media are focusing on. I think that Obama's struggles stem from actual leadership issues. Period. Unless, of course, someone can provide for me an analysis that shows us he's been on top of things since Day 1. Nevertheless, symbolism is part of leadership, especially at the presidential level. So, even if perception doesn't reflect reality in the Gulf, it's part of a president's job to lead by example; to show everyone that the government is fully mobilized on behalf of its people. And I don't think he's come close to doing that.

    • Mr. Potter, I agree with Dennis F. The American people want leadership in solving problems and factual accounts of what is being done. Displays of emotion, , BP bashing, and blaming Bush are mere distractions and people know this.

      • Oh, you haven't figured it out yet. EVERYTHING is Bush's fault, and will be for decades. He was the dumbest president ever, yet he changed the course of global events for generations. The left will blame Bush for their own mistakes in 20 years, and blame it on No Child Left Behind. Responsibility and accountability only apply to the right-wing.

    • Very true – the MSM made this guy out to be a leader that was new and innovative and that the world has never seen before. Well we have seen this before – at every workplace there is always some body promoted way above his/her ability – and all you hope for is that that person can do no long term damage. And that is what people want from Obama – show some type of leadership and don't cause more problems. I'm not convinced that is going to happen – the best thing that could happen is that Obama decides not to run in 2012 on some pretext of illness (the suggestion has been made that he suffers from early Parkinson). And if that happens that maybe the MSM will do their job this time and look at all candidates equally rather than ignoring the rather obvious gaps in this guy's background and experience.

      • "And if that happens that maybe the MSM will do their job this time and look at all candidates equally rather than ignoring the rather obvious gaps in this guy's background and experience."

        You mean, just in time for Sarah Palin's run? Whew!

        • If only the media had paid half as much attention to Obama's experience as they did to Palin's, maybe things would be different. And only one of them actually wanted to be president, too.

          • I think it's really interesting that if there's one thing left and right can agree on, it's that the "media" doesn't do its job nearly well enough. Now what?

    • So aside from projecting a certain image, what has he failed to actually do?

      • I actually asked this question on my blog, and found some answers.

        Lots of things. Members of the administration were unaware of some basic facts early on. During a press conference, Obama didn't even know the status of a major official responsible for offshore drilling. As many on the left seem intent on pointing out, BP was given an awful lot of leeway in its handling of the spill, including daily estimates that were routinely lowballed. Emergency requests from local officials things like booms and chemical dispersants were left to linger for days and weeks. Offers from other countries to help were ignored. I mean, the list goes on and on.

        In fact, I'm surprised at how some Obama defenders seem to think that he's utterly helpless in dealing with this crisis. I suppose it might be why the comparisons to Jimmy Carter have become the norm. I also think it's very unlikely that Bush would have been allowed the luxury of throwing his arms up in the air and letting BP and human nature do their thing.

        Again, it might be symbolic, but Obama's routine golf playing during this crisis clearly suggests that the Obama administration did not grasp the full severity of the spill until weeks after it first occurred. They did not assume the worst, which is probably one of the first rules of crisis management. In fact, they didn't seem to perceive it as a crisis for weeks. I don't think that's leadership. But nothing in Obama's resume ever suggested that he was capable of it to begin with. Just saying.

        • I dunno – certainly in hindsight a more rapid response would have been preferable, but this was initially thought to be a small leak. If BP lied about the magnitude at first, and it seems they did, they should be prosecuted.

          Here's a pretty well-documented timeline: http://mediamatters.org/research/201004300053

          I don't see where Obama's capabilities held back the nation's response.

          • Media Matters is a well known left-wing propaganda site. But I guess you do appear to be one of those who think Obama is a helpless victim in all this. Congrats.

          • "Media Matters is a well known left-wing propaganda site."

            Care to back up that statement?

          • Fair enough, their funding comes from liberal sources – I'm not sure how that makes it a propaganda site. Just because they fact check conservative sources doesn't mean they're a propaganda site – or are you claiming that they lie?

          • Well, they're funded and run by liberals, and all they do is counter conservative media sources. Hey, if that isn't an ideologically motivated propaganda site, then I've got some bridges to sell you in Hamilton.

          • You seem to be conflating "partisan" with "propaganda"

          • Heck, if you want me to slap the "partisan" label on them instead, by all means. You're only serving to help me shred their credibility as an objective source on Obama's handling of the spill.

          • No point replying after two days, but I'm compelled to point out that your response was as predictable as the sunrise. Congrats.

          • In other words, you don't have a substantive response. Congrats. Next.

          • Dude, you're priceless.

            You make some vague, completely unsubstantiated accusations about Obama's "failure", backed up by a link to further unsubstantiated accusations on your blog. I reply with a well-documented timeline of the response backed up by links to dozens of different sources and ask where the failure was.

            Your response is to blar-har about Media Matters' funding and to never once back up your own assertions or address anything in the Media Matters report.

            So your original accusations were unsubstantiated and you failed to address the substance of what I posted. You can't back up your own assertions and you can't see anything wrong with the timeline I posted. So you resort to snark. As predictable as the sunrise.


          • Why do people like you need to be like this? Is it ideology?

            I hardly made any vague statements. I was quite specific and detailed. You, on the other hand, cited ONE source, and it was a well known left-wing propaganda site.

            You want to peddle the idea that Obama is a helpless victim in all of this, and you get angry when someone dares to suggest that it's a quite silly notion of leadership.

          • You didn't provide a single link to back up any of your accusations.

            And regardless of their funding, that Media Matters report is a timeline constructed almost entirely of links to government and media sources online. There's essentially no original material there, just a whole lot of research. And you can't find anything wrong with it, so you attack the source (and me).

            You do have a consistent style.

          • 1) I did provide links – to my blog, which provides links to other sources.

            2) Do you have even one rebuttal against the facts and suggestions I made in my original detailed post on the matter, instead of constantly citing a left-wing propaganda site?

            3) You cited one source. It's a left-wing cite. Go to the link I posted. It's not only about the funding, which is huge, but the content. They package things in ways to help your ideological buddies. You then come on here, piss on us, and try to suggest it's raining.

            Can you find ONE objective source that will tell us that Obama should be viewed as a helpless victim in all this?

            4) You are of the belief that Obama is helpless. That's your view of leadership when left-wingers are in charge and responsible for things. Right?

          • Yeah, I went to your blog. I see links to your own work, as well as to Byron Freakin' York and Rudy Giuliani. No original sources, just a couple of right-wing pundits giving opinions.

            You still haven't addressed a single matter of substance on the Media Matters timeline, for all your caterwauling about them. You simply can't, because it's a timeline constructed from unimpeachable sources.

            "Can you find ONE objective source that will tell us that Obama should be viewed as a helpless victim in all this?"

            "You are of the belief that Obama is helpless."

            I never said he should be considered a helpless victim or as helpless. Don't put words in my mouth. What I said was "I don't see where Obama's capabilities held back the nation's response." And you haven't addressed that at all.

          • You have yet to respond to even ONE suggestion I have cited about what Obama could have done substantively. And these are all routine criticisms.

            Again, you don't think Obama could have done anything. That is your view of leadership.

            Regarding the Media Matters page, it's a huge link dump. What specifically do you want me to look at?

            All you've done is come on here, suggest that Obama should have thrown his hands up in the air, attack me personally for suggesting otherwise, then not provide even one example that shows us that you've looked at any of the facts yourself. You've simply pointed to one left-wing page over and over again like it's the Bible, then get mad at me for pointing out that it's a well know left-wing propaganda site.

            Do you seriously consider this to be convincing argumentation?

          • "All you've done is…"

            "you don't think Obama could have done anything…"

            Whatever dude. You keep furiously misrepresenting what I'm saying, and telling me what I think. There's no point arguing with somebody who constructs his own reality.

            I think the Media Matters timeline shows a reasonable, if imperfect, government response. And each step in the timeline is backed up by links to credible sources. You won't address it, fine, enjoy your cocoon.

            As for your claims, like "Members of the administration were unaware of some basic facts early on." and "Emergency requests from local officials things like booms and chemical dispersants were left to linger for days and weeks." and "Offers from other countries to help were ignored.", well, you have simply never provided a source.

            But somehow you expect your unsourced allegations to be taken seriously, as you attack me and Media Matters without addressing what either of us is saying.

            Predictable as the sunrise.

          • You think that a left-wing propaganda site has put together a timeline that supports your contention that Obama could have done nothing differently. Again, congrats. You have not even demonstrated that you have read that page, for crying out loud.

            On the other hand, I have stated well known facts, sourced some of them, and you turn around and ask me to provide a link to every single assertion made, without telling me what's off about them. You're filibustering your own thread, dude! But I guess when your argument is so absurd, you have to.

            Again, you want us to believe that Obama is the victim. How is this not true?

          • "…supports your contention that Obama could have done nothing differently."

            "Again, you want us to believe that Obama is the victim."

            You're still misrepresenting what I said, which was: "I don't see where Obama's capabilities held back the nation's response."

            "I have stated well known facts, sourced some of them…"

            They're not well-known facts and I have yet to see a *single* primary source for *any* of your claims. I didn't ask you to provide a link to *every single assertion*.

            It's like arguing with a 12-year-old.

          • Oh, I'm sorry, you believe that most of the world is wrong in criticizing Obama's leadership, and you use a left-wing propaganda site to justify it. Again, congrats.

          • "…you believe that…"


          • Yes, as was the case many posts ago, you have no substantive response. Just a knee-jerk pointing to a left-wing propaganda site suggesting that you and they are right, everyone else is wrong. But I guess some people need these things to get up in the morning.

      • Well there's still oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at an unprecedented rate. He hasn't done squat to stop that. In fact, not only hasn't he stopped it, he's possibly made it worse by stopping the Top Kill. He's also used it as an "opportunity" to further his green energy agenda, which seems to me a mighty cynical priority when the Gulf of Mexico is literally in danger of no longer being a body of water, but a body of oil.

        For some very frightening, non-partisan, and insightful information, I suggest you read this: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6593/648967

        I honestly had completely underestimated this crisis until I read that article. It was a huge eye opener.

  3. Americans, as usual, want miracles. And for free.

  4. I never really got what the whole uproar over that Dean speech was, other than just Democratic leadership competitors and Republican/Fox "News" partisans jumping on Dean for partisan purposes. He would have performed better than Kerry I think, because Kerry was so wooden and Dean would have motivated more people, and Americans almost always – always? – prefer former governors to former senators.

    • I almost never agree with you, but I'm with you 100% on this one. I actually thought that it showed he was a just a real guy showing real emotion, in what was an obviously emotional moment.

      I disagree with your point about him doing better than Kerry, because Kerry is "wooden" for one simple reason: Americans like their politicians wooden. They WANT a robot in a suit, and I believe that half of the cause of Bush Derangement Syndrome is because too many people didn't like how honest and personal he was at times (God talk, unabashed Texas accent, etc).

      • I wouldn't call Reagan or Clinton or Bush, or Nixon, or Roosevelt, Nixon, all elected to two or more terms, wooden. Or Kennedy, Johnson for that matter. Those Americans who hated Bush did so for his policies not his facade of honesty. Dean had the same kind of ordinary guy charm that Bush and Clinton did, with the easy slightly folky oratorical ability of Reagan. Americans do not like their politicians to be wooden: they like them to be good performers with charisma and charm and folksiness. It's part of the reason governors do so much better than senators in getting elected president.

        But the Democrats were so tied up in knots about how to respond to the Iraq War and fearful of being painted as unpatriotic for questioning the war that they really did it to themselves.

  5. President Obama's biggest challenge is not to become Jimmy Carter the sequel.

    • Had Americans paid attention to Carter they wouldn't have this problem now.

  6. What matters more than authenticity in politics is the ability to fake it persuasively.

    • (George Burns) Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made.

    • The key ingredient to becoming PM in Canada of late.

      • No, it's convincing voters the other guy is less authentic.

        • Chicken and egg. One begets the other; one necessitates the other.

  7. "Today Show's Matt Lauer found him frustratingly cerebral…"

    To be fair, Matt Lauer finds most people frustratingly cerebral.

  8. Authenticity only works when its expression involves no decisions, no accountability and no real-world consequences. As soon as those intrude, your authenticity evaporates like morning mist, and you are naked in the world with nothing but boring facts and logic.

  9. Yep, the real problem is that Obama response hasn't *seemed* authentic enough. Of course had he forced BP aside at first he'd have been pilloried for sticking the government's nose into private business's problem.

    Meanwhile the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committe literally just APOLOGIZED to BP for forcing them to pay for the claims against them.

    (whenever I despair about my nation's political landscape, I look south and feel immediately better)

  10. Obama can never do anything right by some Americans. They should, but don't know what a bright caring President they have. However, he is not a miracle worker and this chaotic situation was literally unforseen. Are all the oil rigs being checked for the safety features that must be required if they wish to operate in deep waters. Let's stop this blame game and search one's inner soul to see if as a nation every thing is being done in the interests of all. Name calling, like Nazi or communist are puerile and have no place in a society that prides itself in being a leader in the real world. I'm glad to see that some of your writers have the courage and decency to use real names instead of hiding behind pseudonyms. Noel Potts

  11. For the love of god Potter– you're a great columnist and a great author in general, but enough of tagging every GD thing you write with "authenticity." Enough– we get it, we're not morons, we know the whole Obama-organic-whatever's-the-newest-music complex is trying to hucksterize us, so how 'bout you quit it too? Bless you for vocalizing what we've all been feeling for a while, but… next…

    • That was a very good post, but for some reason, I feel it is lacking in authenicty.

      • Nice try, but I don't think you REALLY feel that way.

        • LOL both of you!

  12. Obama has been a disaster as president.

    That the water carriers in the leftist media still take it upon themselves to act as a vanguard and critique the critiques of Obama, is a testament to the depths the media has sunk in their role, not as purveyors of fact, but as defenders of the "correct" beliefs.

    • It is not a "fact" that Obama has been a disaster as president, it is your opinion.

  13. DerekPearce is right, Andrew. Please give your authenticity critique a rest. We can learn more from McLuhan's decades-old notion of television as a cool medium that invites participation. You can never be too cool unless, like President Obama, your intellectual coolness does not invite participation by the viewer.

    I should add that I would be interested in your take on Adorno's reaction to Heidegger's concept of authenticity, but I doubt you'd be able to fit that into a column in Macleans.