Cicilline, Gemma, and our Sincerity Obsession

R. Jay Magill, author of Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull), argues that the American fixation on sincerity in politics is wrongheaded.

Politics, after all, is about dodge and artifice and posturing. We all know it. And yet we insist on something more.

That tendency explains, at least in part, why Congressman David Cicilline's approval numbers are so anemic. The public thought him slick even before he declared the city of Providence in "excellent" fiscal condition. And when that turned out to be false - when questions about his sincerity bled into questions about his truthfulness - the public's distaste turned into disdain.

Last night, in his debate against fellow Democrat Anthony Gemma, we all watched Cicilline juke and duck. We all watched him work his way back to talking points. Indeed, we were all hyper aware of his manuevering, given the reputation he has built.

And yet, even as his opponent called him a liar - even as Gemma pushed to present himself as the sincere alternative - the power of the deft politician came through.

Cicilline was head-and-shoulders above Gemma on the issues. He said the right things. And against a bumbling opponent, he looks poised to win. But can he do the same against GOP foe Brendan Doherty, who can make a far more credible case than Gemma for the sincere pol? We'll see.


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