What some call "authenticity" is doing battle with purported stereotypes.
This has long been the case in American life.
Bloodthirsty opponents of Mitt Romney do not openly attack him for being a Mormon. They may save that for later, but for now he is taking plenty of accusations that he is a bad cartoon version of a conservative politician. Most frequently of all, he is called an ice-cold corporate raider whose wealth has always separated him from ordinary Americans.
Up the hill, on the other side of the national aisle of sensibility, first lady Michelle Obama is complaining about a new book, Jodi Kantor's "The Obamas," in which she believes she is depicted as "an angry black woman."
Such stereotypes are a staple of the American imagination, no matter how much we try to eradicate them. It seems that, in the case of both Romney and Obama, we will not see them for who they truly are -- whatever that reality may actually be.
Some political types, for example, are more concerned with how Romney treated his family dog on a long-ago family vacation -- the family drove with the dog in a kennel tied to the top of the car. Maybe they think that if they can show him to be indifferent to the treatment of man's best friend, voters will give him the Michael Vick treatment.
Wrote Lanny Davis on the Fox News website: "Was the dog distressed? Was it illegal under Massachusetts law as cruelty? There is some evidence that both are true ... I love animals, especially dogs. I don't like people who are cruel to animals. I am told it is illegal in Massachusetts to put an animal on a car roof while driving. Had I been the local sheriff, I would have arrested him.
"This is the ultimate Purple Issue -- it cuts across Republicans, Democrats, blue states, red states, liberals and conservatives ... I think anyone who puts his dog in a cage on top of a car for a 12-hour drive and then deludes himself or tries to delude others that the dog really enjoyed it -- to me, with all due respect, I feel such a man shouldn't be President of the United States."
There it is -- red meat for some.
On the other side, those who have seen Michelle Obama remake herself into a cooler and calmer woman since she paraded her firebrand charisma during the months prior to the presidential election of 2008 find her problem seems to be no more than another ethnic tempest in a teapot.
Kantor's book provides gossip about how Obama supposedly got into screaming matches with Robert Gibbs, the president's chief spokesman at the time, and how she and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (who has since become the mayor of Chicago) could not get along. Supposedly, she compared living in the White House to hell. For some people, this confirms their worst suspicions about her.
How much did Romney pay for his haircut? Where does the first lady buy her clothes? These are the kinds of questions some in the media claim are important in America today.
But we have risen from the muck before, and we can rise from it again. Already, the GOP presidential nomination has seen plenty of hot air dispelled and plenty of jokers, like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, shown the door. The truth takes a long time to arrive, but arrive it does.