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Sincerity And Authenticity

Adam Kirsch has an excellent piece today on the Arts & Letters page of The New York Sun comparing Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s memoirs. Jason recently excavated the books’ backstories, but the critic Kirsch addresses their surfaces. Using Lionel Trilling’s “Sincerity and Authenticity” as a lens, he ascribes the former attribute to Clinton and the latter to Obama:

Sincerity "implies a public end": It can only be manifested in relation to other people, because it involves meaning in your heart what you say aloud. Authenticity, on the other hand, is a private virtue, or still more emphatically, an anti-public one, since it regards all intercourse with other people as potentially deceptive. If sincerity is saying what you mean, authenticity is being what you are.

f the vice of sincerity is self-pity, the vice of authenticity is narcissism." It’s interesting and fortunate for Obama that his and Clinton’s vices are complementary rather than opposed: His surge may have fostered a certain arrogance, but it has been far less dramatic than the litany of excuses with which Clinton and her campaign have tried to dismiss him. Kirsch writes that “the overreliance of Mr. Obama's campaign on his personal charisma is already emerging as the favorite target of his opponents,” but Clinton’s line of attack has been so scattershot that if often just comes off as an elaborate, accidental exhibition of self-pity.

--Ben Crair