Candidate Authenticity and Classic Cars: A Post-Mortem on a Campaign Metaphor

Tonight before the Iowa caucuses, I’m compelled to weigh in on the election before any votes dash my efforts to pontificate… so here’s a take on the buzzword that wouldn’t die during this pre-primary pundit-off: authenticity.

For a while, Authenticity roared loudly amongst the chattering class. Donald Trump had it, Jeb Bush needed it. Bernie Sanders had it, Hillary Clinton needed it.

As candidates tried to capture that elusive trait, authenticity, they started concocting antics and pitches like car salesmen to get voters in the car. Rand Paul shoots legislation! Chris Christie yells at everybody! Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson have no clue what the government does, just like you! Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio argue about who wears sillier boots! Martin O’Malley stares lovingly into the cameras just like he practiced!

Poll-watching, gaffe-tracking, presidential campaign watchers are no stranger to the automobile as a campaign metaphor (second only the horserace, but with some hidden horsepower). Politicians rev up their supporters, get mileage out of opponents noxious comments, or let voters “kick the tires.”

Though the campaigns want to convince you that you’re buying the top-of-the-line, brand spanking new Presidential Model 45, the compromises and years of wear and tear make it more like buying a used car. Since the average age of the 2016 candidates is 59 years old, we’ll call them “classic cars.” Essentially, just like there are many caveats about whether a car is original, authentic or valuable, we can ask the same kinds of questions about campaigns which try to sell us candidates as the real deal.

Here’s a few things to ponder in this comparison:

1. Verify the serial number, documents, previous owners

Has this candidate always been a member of this party? Who’s previously paid for this candidate before? How rare is this kind of politician?

2. Look for replacement parts

True collectors want all original parts, others are fine with a few changes so long as a candidate can run well. But if they change everything, are they still the same person?

3. Check what’s under the hood

What gets this person’s motor going? Are they driven by ideas, glory, or duty? Are they reliable? How do they respond to pressure?

4. Test-driven

How long has this candidate been around? Do they know what they’re doing? Are they suited for where the country is going?

5. Don’t trust your gut, make sure it’s the real deal.

Detecting deception within an “authentic” presentation requires extra scrutiny. Best to call in the experts for anything that seems “off” or too-good-to-be-true.

PS. My inspiration for this whole “car as authenticity” thing came from the fact that Bill Withers was a car mechanic when he recorded some of his greatest hits. He decided to stop producing music after he felt he had said what he needed to say. He’s authentic in the deepest sense of the word.


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