Hot Air: The Real Deal

Much as I strive to avoid simplistic explanations for complicated phenomena, I can’t deny there are often basic, one-line, easy answers. For instance, it’s demonstrably true that many conservatives are drawn to authoritarian males, thus explaining why Christian fundamentalists of the Right dig such a seemingly un-Christian President Trump.

It’s also eminently provable that some 150 years of humanity burning fossil fuels has led to a crisis point in our species’ history.

These examples, though, are outliers. The phrase, “If only we could…,” is one of the most dangerous in the language. Take economics. We understand there’s a basic inequality wherein a few thousand of our planet’s human inhabitants control as much wealth as the remaining seven billion of us. Lots of folks today say, “If only we could tax the rich….” As if that alone would remediate the wealth gap.

Just this AM, though, I came upon an interesting piece in the latest issue of The Atlantic. The author, Gilad Edelman, exec. ed. of Washington Monthly, a liberal-ish mag covering politics and gov’t, writes about our current fascination with Pete Buttigieg. Mayor Pete, posits he, is viewed as “authentic.” Edelman riffs on the whole idea of “authenticity” in our national political candidates. Mitt Romney, sez Edelman, wasn’t. Barack Obama was. Donald Trump was, too. Hillary Clinton was not.


So what determines political authenticity? Edelman writes:

Candidates from Obama to Trump to the Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg seem authentic to the extent that they seem to be saying what they’re really thinking, rather than what they’re “supposed” to say. The key word here is seem.

Edelman cites a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The paper’s authors, Rachel Gershon of Washington University in St. Louis and Rosanna K. Smith of the University of Georgia, have found that when people believe a speaker is saying something for the first time, they tend to believe that person. When presented evidence the person is saying something s/he’s said before, listeners tend to discount the statement’s authenticity.

Edelman writes:

…[W]e’re wired to assume that all speech is extemporaneous. When that assumption is revealed to be false, we penalize the speaker. This is true, the authors found, even in contexts where it makes no sense to expect speakers not to repeat themselves, such as listening to a tour guide or a stand-up comic.

Hillary Clinton, Edelman argues, had a pat stump speech. In other words, she repeated lines and ideas. Add to that her wooden delivery and distant manner, and you’ve got a huge swath of the electorate who conclude she’s as honest as a used car salesman.

Donald Trump, OTOH, is a notorious improviser. Even his staffers are frustrated by his almost obsessive desire not to hew to a line of thought or stick to a script. Voters, tens of millions of them, loved the fact that no one could predict what might come out of Trump’s mouth next. “He’s real,” they say. This despite the fact that Trump’s entire history screams used car salesman.

Buttigieg, an academically-accomplished, well-versed speaker, seemingly never repeats lines. He, too, is a fine improviser. Ergo, he’s authentic.

“Authenticity,” Edelman concludes, “is not about being honest; it’s about seeming unscripted.”

Gershon & Smith, BTW, are academics specializing in marketing. The Democrats have traditionally been the party of issues and ideas; the Republicans more concerned with perceptions and emotions. In other words, the GOP is the marketing party. It’d behoove the Dems to market themselves a tad more efficiently this time around.

Big Talk

Tune in to Big Talk this afternoon at 5:30pm. My guest this week is Bloomington city council District 5 candidate Ryan Maloney. He is, I believe, the only candidate in this year’s local election not to have been born in this holy land. Maloney hails from Australia. His family moved to Nevada years ago. His mom, BTW, was a lounge singer who, according to him, could do a mean Dolly Parton.

Maloney schooled me in the proper pronunciation of his family’s adopted state. It’s neh-VA-duh — the A in the middle syllable pronounced as the A in cat. I thought I was being all sophisticated by pronouncing it neh-VAH-duh. Nevadans, Maloney insists, bristle at the sound of neh-VAH-duh.

Anyway, tune in to WFHB, 91.3 FM immediately following the Daily Local News. AS always, if you miss the show, fret not: I’ll post the podcast link herein tomorrow.

Next week: District 1 candidate Denise Valkyrie. That’ll be the last in my series on challengers for city council seats. Primary election day in Tuesday, May 7th.

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