Congratulations to John Fetterman on winning the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania. And kudos to you for being declared authentic.
Being authentic has long been a positive description in politics and is increasingly rare. What is it and why has John Fetterman won the authenticity award? Check out the dictionary and it means John Fetterman is an original. Not a copy. Not like everyone else.
Well, that really shouldn’t be that special, each of us being unique individuals and all. So why is only John Fetterman special in this way?
I have long believed that voters seeing individual candidate personality is critical to the candidate winning. Voters seem pretty good at getting a read on what candidates are about personally. In focus groups, I have asked questions about what a candidate would be like on a first date, whether, as a neighbor, they would look after your house when you are gone, and other questions to get at what the “guy” is like. People answer these questions easily. They do have that kind of read on people – even people running for office. Candidates who would be too polite or too grabby on that first date, or who, as neighbors, won’t pick up your mail, are less likely to win regardless of their issue positions. Even if campaign ads and messages declare them to be a fighter, if as a neighbor you can’t call on them in an emergency, you are clearly not buying they fight for you.
Now, plenty of ads describe candidates as growing up barefoot and poor, or the child of a single mother, or in some other way overcoming the odds just like most people have. But, would they feed your cat when you are away for the weekend?
In the olden days of polling (like in the 1990s), pollsters told candidates what people were worried about and then, on an individual basis, tried to connect what people were concerned about with the candidate’s thinking. In the modern era of independent expenditures, half the time the pollster hasn’t met the candidate, much less derived a sense of what makes them unique – as a person as well as politically. The result is too much messaging is pat regurgitated shit like how people deserve X, or at least how some people deserve X, and how the candidate knows they deserve whatever because he/she has also overcome odds. (The overuse of the word deserve is a pet peeve; it is fundamentally about entitlement and not respectful of what people earn.)
Not all candidates have visible tattoos, dislike suits and wear shorts and hoodies like Fetterman. He does provide more to work with than most. But every candidate has some attitudes that don’t fit the mold, or some aspects of their thinking that are original, or a real story about how they became interested in politics, or about how they are a good neighbor (told better by the neighbor, I suspect).
So, as the 2022 cycle gets going, if you want candidates to be deemed “authentic,” suggest they say some things in a way only they would say them. Messages and ads taken from common talking points will just produce an image that your candidate is a typical politician. And, believe me, those guys are never fun on a first date and while some might say they will feed your cat, they will get busy and forget and your cat may starve.
Now, in many cases, both the candidates would let the cat starve. Then people make a partisan choice between two cat-killers. Probably not a good year though for Democratic cat-killers. Even if they grew up poor and overcame the odds and therefore know what you deserve.