I read this article in the November 2008 issue of Men’s Health. I really liked it.

The Value of Personal Authenticity
May the Most Authentic Man Win
If you can draw one lesson from presidential politics, it’s this. The key to success–in relationships, in work, in life — is to know who you are
 
By: Danny Strong

Just be yourself.
It’s the most common piece of advice we’re given in high-pressure situations, from first dates to grand-jury testimony. (Beware if the former leads to the latter.) Never is this advice more applicable than in the almighty job interview, during which you have approximately 15 minutes to convince complete strangers that they should change your life.
 
But what if your job interview lasted 18 months?
 
That’s how long a U.S. presidential campaign goes on these days, and in a delicious twist of fate, we the people are the prospective employers and the powers that be are the applicants. There can be only one winner, and the person who lands the coveted position is usually the one who is able to just be himself.
 
That’s right. The most authentic man wins, no matter how great his flaws.
 
There are no better examples of flawed but authentic candidates than the two most recent U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Both were astute campaigners who overcame huge personal hurdles by the sheer force of their likability and charming personalities. In Clinton’s case, tales of extramarital affairs hampered him from the beginning: A tawdry tart named Gennifer Flowers should have sunk his ship back in 1992. Salacious disclosures like hers would have been career enders in campaigns past — just ask Gary Hart. So how did a man with an apparent desire to bang every cocktail waitress who brought him a mint julep end up as president of the United States?
 
Simple: Bill Clinton never pretended to be morally superior. He never preached family values. Had he tried to, the charming womanizer would have been labeled a hypocrite — and as Eliot Spitzer would be first to testify, the American public really hates hypocrites. First and foremost, the people want a person, not a politician, and if that person happens to love chasing skirts, that’s fine, as long as we know that’s who the man is.
 
After the 8 years of Clinton’s presidency, when even an impeachment brought on by his rabid libido couldn’t deflate his popularity, we came to the 2000 candidacy of George W. Bush. Long before the hanging chad came to symbolize that election, two very different men were campaigning for the job. One was an uptight, wooden boy genius named Al Gore; the other was an easygoing Texan, a former beer swiller who never met a sentence he couldn’t mangle.
Now for a job as important as leader of the free world, you’d think smarts would trump likability. After all, a man who says “you’re working hard to put food on your family” would not make me feel comfortable if he were running a smoothie shack, let alone a nation. And yet Bush was able to beat the brainy Gore (more or less).
 
Given Clinton’s popularity, the 2000 election was Gore’s to lose. So where did Albert Jr. go so wrong? There was always a personal restraint to his campaign, a fear of coming across as elitist, intellectual, not of the people. Instead of worrying about how not to come across, Gore needed to just be himself. I’m referring to the funny, relaxed, self-deprecating man who showed up to concede the election to Bush on December 13, 2000. Or the man of intellect and passion we met nearly 6 years later in a 1 1/2-hour documentary about the environment.
 
Had the Al Gore of An Inconvenient Truth run for president, I bet he would have won by a landslide. This Gore was insightful, wise, engaging, and likable. It took a science class about his most cherished subject for the true leader within him to emerge.
 
Still, Bush didn’t win only because Al Gore fizzled. Where Gore struggled to find his voice, Bush sang like a eunuch hitting a high C. He knew he had some weaknesses in the Department of Smarts, so he made that shortcoming part of the campaign, often making jokes about the way he mutilates the English language. Much like Clinton not trumpeting values, Bush didn’t pretend to be a Rhodes scholar. His persona was that of a religious straight shooter who told it like he saw it. He was selling his gut instinct and bravado, and since he had those in spades, the American people gave him the job.
 
The Democratic Party’s authenticity problem persisted during the 2004 presidential race. Its candidate was a decorated Vietnam veteran who later protested the war. That was what I liked most about John Kerry: Not only did he have the bravery to go and fight, but he also had the courage to turn against the fight. But John Kerry the candidate wanted to tell us only half of the story. During the campaign, he rarely mentioned his activist days–he was too worried about alienating the people who resented Vietnam protesters, especially because he was running for the presidency during a particularly bloody period of the Iraq conflict.
 
So Kerry sold himself as a decorated soldier, opening his acceptance speech at the convention with a corny salute and saying, “Reporting for duty!” This wasn’t John Kerry; this was half of John Kerry. During a flap about him throwing away his war medals at a protest rally, I wanted him to scream, “They’re my medals! I’ll do whatever the hell I want with them!” Instead, we heard him say he didn’t throw the medals, he threw the ribbons. Brave? Courageous? It sounded more like Bill Clinton parsing “is.” Clinton got away with it because we knew he was covering up his affair — we’d already accepted him as an adulterer. Kerry had no free pass, and so the authentic good ol’ boy from Texas received more votes.

The most authentic candidate from the past 8 years didn’t even make it to the general election in 2000 or 2004. I’m talking about the maverick senator from Arizona named John McCain, who ran against Bush in the 2000 primary. That McCain rode around on a bus called the Straight Talk Express, and straight talk he did. He ripped the leaders of the religious right as “agents of intolerance.” He pushed for campaign finance reform and sensible tax policy. He was that rare politician willing to buck his party. Moderate Democrats like me swooned.
 
Unfortunately for the maverick, authenticity in the primaries isn’t as important as playing to your party’s base, and McCain’s independent ways were too much for the more conservative elephants of the GOP.
 
Early in this year’s presidential campaign, we saw a very different John McCain. The former maverick was pandering to the exact people he used to attack. He reversed himself (dare I say flip-flopped?) on tax cuts, affirmative action, and offshore drilling. He even sought support from the people behind the Swift Boat campaign, people he publicly attacked for smearing John Kerry’s war record. It was as if the Straight Talk Express had been abandoned on the side of the campaign trail, replaced by a McCain Segway that turns whichever way the electorate leans.
 
The shift worked in the short term: McCain won the Republican nomination. But he did it by undercutting his biggest strength: a long record of independent thinking. That’s who he is, and that’s what he needs to be selling.
 
And so he shifted his persona again in August, just before the Republican National Convention. He picked Governor Sarah Palin, essentially a complete stranger, as his running mate: Yeah, that’s something a maverick would do. At the same time, his pick was clearly designed to appeal to the GOP base. Very smart. The result: a huge post-convention bounce.
 
Of course, McCain is up against a formidable foe. First-term senator Barack Obama defeated the Democratic Party’s most famous figure (and her husband, too) in one of the biggest upsets in American political history. And he did it by dripping with authenticity.
 
Yes, Barack Obama’s speeches are eloquent. More important, they’re direct, sincere, and passionate. He’s not afraid to tell the NAACP that the African American community is going to have to take more responsibility for itself. Comments like that put him in hot water with the outspoken civil-rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, who remarked (thinking his mike was off) that he wanted to cut Obama’s nuts off. By alienating leaders of his own party, Obama showed he was willing to express his true beliefs, even if it meant pissing off his base.
 
The perfect example of Obama succeeding where John Kerry utterly failed is the photo released by each campaign showing the sporty side of its respective candidate. The Obama campaign put out a picture of the senator in sweats, shooting hoops. Yup. That looks like something Obama would do. Reminds me of Ronald Reagan riding a horse. We are seeing, or at least think we’re seeing, a candid moment in the candidate’s life.
 
That’s in stark contrast to the pictures of John Kerry displaying his groovy windsurfing skills. He looked like a middle-aged millionaire trying to feign athleticism.
 
So who wins the 2008 election? I haven’t A clue. The more important question is what it all means to you. That I can answer.
 
What draws a nation to a leader is the same thing that draws people–a new friend, a new woman, a new employer — to you. So never play a role. Never put on an act. With authenticity comes success and happiness. Just ask Bill Clinton.

In the magazine, there’s a venn diagram of Authenticity and I thought it was real cool as well. I’m glad to see that there’s nothing in authenticity about being compassionate to everyone’s problems, or having elaborate goals as solving world peace. 
The venn diagram is made up of Transparency, Trustworthiness and Self-Awareness. You’re sincere if you are transparent and trustworthy. You’re generous if you’re trustworthy and self-aware. You’re ideological if you’re transparent and self-aware. You’re authentic if you have all three traits. 
Advertisements