Jackie Gingrich Cushman

From plastic plants to fake fur, we are surrounded by items that are not "authentic" or real, but imitations – some good, some not so. (Has anyone been to NYC's Chinatown recently?) This transition has come about for a variety of reasons, including lower cost (polyester vs. silk), reduced maintenance (plastic plants vs. real ones), or a belief in not causing harm (fake fur vs. pelts) that may make the authentic item less desirable than the imitation.

While such replacements might mean less cost, less upkeep or an increase in longevity, there is normally a tradeoff. It might be easier to take care of a silk version of a Stargazer Lily, but it lacks the fragrance of the real flower.

Every day, each of us makes tradeoffs between benefit and cost in numerous personal decisions. I might go for a silk fern, but would never consider carrying a knock-off Chanel handbag.

With the popularity of tabloid magazines and the ubiquity of advertising, we are surrounded by pictures and ideals that most people cannot meet, naturally. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 11 million cosmetic procedures were performed last year in the United States costing $11 billion. This might lead one to think our society prizes outward appearance more than authenticity.

What one may perceive as authentic may not actually be authentic. Authenticity requires a focus on core beliefs and the strength to stand firm amidst changing events over which one may have no control. In contrast, the perception of authenticity can be imparted even if it's ungrounded in truth.

You rarely see the words "politics" and "authenticity" in the same sentence, unless the reference is derogatory. People often think of politicians as polished, controlled and contrived, not authentic and real.

David Greenberg's recent blog in "The New Republic" notes that "since Truman it has been extraordinarily hard to find any politician presumed to be genuine," and that "The most common way to attack a candidate today--to go to the heart of his or her legitimacy--is to charge her or him with being phony."

If our society is looking for an authentic candidate, maybe we should first define what it means to be authentic. The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines the adjective as: "worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact….true to one's own personality, spirit, or character."

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.