Why ‘sincere’ isn’t a real qualification for office

October 13, 2015
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to a question at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to a question at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa, October 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Conviction is in. Calculation is out. That’s the rule for 2016. Candidates who exhibit conviction and disdain calculation are seen as authentic. Even if they can’t get anything done.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is seen as authentic. He promises to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and get the Mexican government to pay to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border. He claims he can do these things because he’s a deep believer — in himself.

Senator Bernie Sanders is seen as authentic. He calls for free college tuition for all, single-payer health care and huge tax hikes on the wealthy. He claims he can do these things because he’s a deep believer in government as a force for good.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to a  crowd against a Rocky Mountain backdrop at the University of Colorado in Boulder

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at the University of Colorado in Boulder, October 10, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Hard-right House Republicans are seen as authentic. They want more confrontation with President Barack Obama. That proves they are committed to principle, even if it means gridlock. To them, gridlock is victory.

Politicians who show too much calculation are in trouble. They’re seen as phonies. That’s what doomed Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign. His every move was seen as a political calculation.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keeps coming out with new positions — on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, on the Keystone XL pipeline, on financial regulation. Her campaign has stalled.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush comes across as wishy-washy on his brother’s Iraq policy, on race relations, on same-sex marriage, on climate change. His campaign is experiencing failure to launch.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigning at Soldier’s Field in Chicago, October 28, 1944. REUTERS/Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

The most successful political leaders are those who can show conviction and use calculation. Leaders like Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. They advertised their convictions and quietly made whatever compromises were necessary to get the job done. With Reagan, conservatives believed in what he said more than what he did. Probably because he did, too.

The hunger for authenticity is powerful this year. House conservatives can hardly believe how successful they’ve been. They’ve brought down three Republican leaders: Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) last year and, this year, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and prospective Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.). Now they’re demanding a wholesale revamping of House rules to give rank-and-file conservatives more power.

They see the Republican Party as a resistance movement. What are they resisting? Obama, of course.

Conservatives want to obliterate everything Obama has achieved, starting with the Affordable Care Act. The resistance movement materialized the minute Obama took office in January 2009. Within weeks, the Tea Party sprang up.

Hard-line House Republicans say they are being driven by their constituents. “They are very frustrated,” as one conservative described his supporters to the New York Times, “They don’t feel that Republican members are representing them.  . . . 60 to 62 percent have said in polling that Republicans in Congress have betrayed them.”

Betrayed them how? Well, conservatives elected a Republican majority in the House in 2010 and expanded it to the Senate in 2014. Yet, the GOP congressional majorities haven’t delivered on a balanced budget or stopping illegal immigration. They couldn’t even stop a hated nuclear deal with Iran.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas

Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 8, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker

The French talk about “l’amour fou” — obsessive love that drives people to do crazy things. Conservatives are afflicted with what might be called “la rage folle” — obsessive hatred that drives them to embrace self-destructive behavior: “No deals with Obama!” The front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination are completely implausible candidates: Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. They’re running on the strength of their convictions. To do what? To stop Obama.

Liberal Democrats are afflicted not so much with rage as frustration. They are disappointed with Obama. He failed to deliver immigration reform, single-payer health care, strong re-regulation of Wall Street or climate-change legislation. “There are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president,” Sanders complained back in 2011, “who cannot believe how weak he has been, for whatever reason, in negotiating with the Republicans.”

Sanders is rallying passionate support from those disappointed liberals. They show up by the thousands at his rallies. But Democratic establishment leaders find Sanders, a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont who favors a huge expansion of government, an implausible candidate for president.

In any case, Sanders is no less calculating than other politicians. He has a mixed record on gun control because he comes from the second-most-rural state in the country. He is trying to break through to white, working-class voters by playing up his populist economic message and playing down his liberal positions on social issues.

“Look, we do have differences,” Sanders told voters in West Virginia last week. “I believe in gay marriage. I’m not going to change your view if you don’t. I believe climate change is absolutely real, and some of you do not. But how many of you think we should give billions in tax breaks to the richest 1 percent?” That comes across to voters as honest, not calculating.

The hot Republican candidate for president right now, at least in Washington, is Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). He once embraced immigration reform but has lately stepped back in the face of conservative opposition. “It’s not that we bailed,” Rubio said when confronted about his shift. “It’s that we don’t have the votes to pass it. . . . The more time we follow that path, the more time we’re wasting.”  That, too, comes across as honest, not calculating.

Of course, politicians have to be calculating. FDR calculated that the Lend-Lease Program to help Britain would put the United States on the anti-fascist side in World War Two without actually going to war. Reagan calculated that naming a moderate Republican running mate before the 1976 Republican convention would peel off Gerald Ford delegates.

Calculation is how politicians get things done and survive. But in a year when authenticity is the gold standard, they have to be careful not to show it.

3 comments

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Reuters needs to stop pushing these “blog” articles like they’re unbiased news pieces. This is nothing but Hillary-supporting rag.

Posted by imronburgundy | Report as abusive

This is actually an opinion article. I’m sorry for any confusion.

Posted by Jason Fields | Report as abusive

Well I dont see a GOP win in 2016..They have to many clowns….No one wants a moron for president.

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive