DAVID BRODER: REPUBLICANS PRESUMED INNOCENT; DEMS PRESUMED GUILTY. You really couldn't ask for a more perfect illustration of the punditry's double-standard when it comes to "authenticity" than today's Washington Post column by David Broder. After approvingly quoting the view in Joe Klein's new book that Al Gore and John Kerry were "trimming their public positions to suit what they -- and their consultants -- thought were the prevailing winds," Broder adds: "The voters can sniff hypocrisy and spot what is synthetic about a candidate." Which of course leads Broder -- surprise, surprise -- to a discussion of the patron saint of authenticity himself, John McCain:
The presumption of authenticity -- the assumption that what he says, he actually believes -- is John McCain's greatest strength going into the 2008 presidential race. That presumption will be tested this weekend when McCain speaks at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and I will be surprised if he fails the exam. (Emphasis added.)
This is truly something. If voters "sniffed" any "hypocrisy" about the last two Dem candidates, it was largely because pundits like Broder, and much of the press, told them to. The press relentlessly portrayed both Dems as willing to say and do whatever it took to get elected. Every move Al Gore made, no matter how obscure, was said to have political and questionable motives. Then once the press had made that Gore's narrative, the pundits proceeded to argue that Gore himself was the author of this storyline -- exactly what Klein has now done once again. If there's one thing pundits love doing, it's describing voter perceptions as if they themselves have played no role in determining how those perceptions were formed -- when of course they played a critical role.
Contrast Broder's treatment of Dems with his point about the "presumption of authenticity" granted to McCain. Who's doing the presuming here? Answer: Why, Broder is, of course. McCain has already demonstrated a willingness to pander to Falwell and others on the right, but that goes unmentioned by Broder. Instead, he's already predicting -- presuming -- that McCain will demonstrate unflappable authenticity at Falwell's university. The emerging McCain narrative, as crafted by pundits like Broder and David Ignatius, is this: When McCain panders, it doesn't count, and we'll all pretend it didn't happen, because the real McCain would rather not be doing it. This is more than just dimwitted punditry; it will have consequences. It will help McCain to be all things to all people without voters "sniffing" his "hypocrisy." If there's one thing Dems should be prepared to deal with by now, it's that when it comes to the pundits' view of a politician's authenticity, Republicans are presumed innocent, and Dems are presumed guilty.