I’m hoping someone can help me understand why Barack Obama comes across to me as so inauthentic. Is it just because I don’t like the man? I’ve mellowed quite a bit toward him. I don’t fly into a rage anymore when I hear him talk. I no longer feel nauseated when I see him on TV. I generally distrust him; but I don’t feel intense emotion about it anymore.
I detested Ronald Reagan, but I never got a feeling that he wasn’t authentic. I always felt that Reagan was pretty straightforward in his words and actions, and sometimes I even found myself almost being charmed by him. I thought he was very bad for the country and felt he was unqualified to be President, but I never thought he was a phony. I despised George W. Bush and thought his policies were dangerous–even evil. But I never got the feeling that he wasn’t being authentic. He always came across to me as pretty upfront about who he was and what his sympathies were.
Authenticity is a technical term in existentialist philosophy, and is also used in the philosophy of art and psychology. In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.
Here is another description of authenticity that resonates with me:
Authenticity is synonymous with Integrity in the sense of a “state of being whole and undivided”. Being authentic is our most natural state though often contrary to our conditioning. What is authentic for each of us is something only we can know and stay true to. Authenticity helps us choose to what we should devote our energy and in making that choice we invest what we do with meaning and live ‘on purpose’. We actively engage in the making of meaning when we choose authenticity; each begets the other.
I like the idea of an authentic personality being whole and undivided. It has always seemed to me that Obama has no clear sense of himself–of who he is and how he fits into the worlds he inhabits. A few days ago, commenter Inky applied the term “inauthentic” to Obama in the sense (I think) that I’m talking about–that of a feeling response that she had to him. She too was discussing Obama’s behavior during a TV interview–the one where he called Kanye West a “jackass.” Here is a portion of the comment:
I acknowledge that I have a predisposition to finding Obama inauthentic, but I recommend watching the video one more time. Does it really still feel authentic to you? Especially after Obama’s misstep on the Gates v. cop controversy, making such a comment seems like such a no-brainer to me; I certainly would have advised him to do just that if I were David Axelrod
Is that what I’m feeling? That Obama sounds inauthentic because he has practiced the lines that are bothering me? I really don’t think so. Most of Obama’s appearances seem practiced and somewhat artificial. To some extent, the President has to be. I think there is something more happening here, but I’m not sure what.
I’m not talking about lying. All politicians lie. I’m talking about something more subtle, and I’m not sure what it is–speaking style, body language? It seems to me I get the same sense of inauthenticity from Obama whether I’m just listening to his words or watching while he speaks them. In fact, the inauthenticity may come across more strongly when I’m just listening to him.
Some recent examples are in Obama’s appearance on David Letterman Monday night. I heard some excerpts from the show on NPR yesterday, and I got that strong sense of inauthenticity when Obama spoke about his daughters having sleepovers with friends over the summer and their friends’ parents getting frisked by the Secret Service. I don’t know if it was the words themselves that bothered me, or the way he said them. It could even be a sense that Obama isn’t comfortable when he jokes or when he talks about his powerful role as President. Here is some poor video of that section of the interview. The “frisked” comment is around 3:56.
Another place in the interview where I got that same feeling when when Obama “joked” that he had already been black before he got elected President. Here’s that portion of the interview. The part that bothered me most was when he said “one of the things you sign up for in politics is that folks yell at ya.” Whenever Obama refers to “folks,” I get that feeling of inauthenticity. Why?
Here are a few more excerpts from the interview.
Am I seeing something real here, or is it just my dislike of Obama coming through? Again, I’m not talking about his lies. We all know he lies constantly. Is it that he seems inauthentic when he tells the truth? Or when he talks about himself or his family? I wish I knew.
Could it be a class thing? I come from a middle-class family, but certainly not upper middle class. My mother’s father was a dentist and her siblings all went to college and were successful. My father’s family was definitely working class, but he moved into the middle class as result of his service in the army–which enabled him to go to college, get a Ph.D. and buy a home. My family is very down to earth. Could it be that I resent Obama when he tries to seem “folksy?”
I really think I’m sensing something about his character–am I making too much of this? Am I getting too “meta?” I’d really be interested to know if anyone else understands the feeling I’m trying to get at, and especially whether anyone can articulate what it is that bothers me so much about Obama’s behavior in interviews.
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Filed under: Barack Obama | Tagged: authenticity, Barack Obama, David Letterman, existentialists, George W. Bush, Heiddeger, inauthenticity, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Ronald Reagan, Salvador Dali | 175 Comments »