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Down on the Farm -- Authenticity is prized

We're supposed to think it is just plain amazing that Iowa caucus-goers gave their blessing to a black man from Chicago and a Baptist minister from Arkansas.

National pundits ask, what possibly could these two men have in common with Iowa farmers?

But the caucus result isn't amazing at all when you consider the quality Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama share: plain old authenticity.

Midwestern voters thirst for authenticity, almost at the expense of all else. Pretense, smoothness, calculation, polish--they won't get you elected here.

Minnesota voters saw authenticity in the quirky candidacy of Jesse Ventura, so they voted him in.

The results were mixed. Although his administration was stable and his judicial appointments were high quality, Ventura was authentically cranky with the legislature, which was unwise. And he was authentically rude to the press, which is never a good idea.

Eventually, it turned out that Ventura was authentically strange. We probably should have known that going in, given the feather boas.

But Huckabee and Obama? No feather boas there. They're authentic like a sack of new potatoes. Given how badly we long to believe that the person in front of us is just what they seem, it's no wonder they're on a roll.

John McCain used to be authentic, but he sold out by pandering to the Neanderthals, saying nasty stuff he didn't believe in because he thought he had to say it to get elected.

Authenticity is precious and fleeting. Once you lose it, it's pretty tough to earn it back. McCain might get authentic again, but he has a long row to hoe.

You wonder why politicians find it so difficult to be authentic. Couldn't they just relax and be themselves?

By all accounts, Al Gore is charming and brilliant in private conversation. On the stump, however, he turns plastic and puts on a dopey southern accent. Why couldn't he just be authentic?

Hillary Clinton might be a nice person for all we know, but boy does she have a long way to go before it comes across. Her poll-tested personalities-of-the-day do little to reassure her audiences that they are seeing the real person.

Rudy Guiliani is downright goofy at times, especially when he dresses up as an old woman for late-night television shows--but somehow you don't get the impression that his funny side is the true Rudy.

Mitt Romney and John Edwards, the twin Ken-dolls, are so plastic you can hear the packaging crinkle. They couldn't be authentic if they tried because there is nothing underneath. Don't touch the hair! It might shatter.

Bill Clinton was authentic, so authentic that you could tell when he was lying, which was often. When those snoopy prosecutors zeroed in, he looked like a 5-year-old denying that he tracked mud into the kitchen.

Bill's authenticity might have been why his job approval ratings never sank, even as his adolescent escapades were paraded in front of an embarrassed nation.

Are voters right to insist upon authenticity, even at the expense of policy expertise, experience, or good behavior?

To answer the question, one has to figure out what it means to be authentic.

To be authentic, you must be comfortable in your own skin. You must trust that people will like you just as you are, warts and all.

To be authentic, you must realize your limitations and not pretend to exceed them. You must believe that even with limitations, you are worthwhile.

To be authentic, you must realize that all other people have limitations, too, and what they want most out of you is not perfection, but a sense that you are one of them.

To be authentic, you must have a firm moral compass. There must be certain things you won't do, even if they might help you reach a temporal goal.

To be authentic means that within the bounds of decency, you have the courage to be as you are, think as you think, do as you do, and let the chips fall where they may.

Not all authentic people make good leaders. Some authentic people are authentic schmucks, and some schmucks get elected.

But at the very least, it should be obvious that the fakes--those who clearly lack authenticity--also lack the courage to lead.