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Originally published Friday, September 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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David Postman

Mike: Too authentic too soon?

In this space Thursday, Danny Westneat wrote about Mike McGavick's DUI and asked, "Can we talk about something else now? " Nope. Not yet. There's...

Seattle Times chief political reporter

In this space Thursday, Danny Westneat wrote about Mike McGavick's DUI and asked, "Can we talk about something else now?"

Nope. Not yet. There's a line in Westneat's column that deserves more attention. He said he was bugged by McGavick's "Clintonesque impulse to spill out all his remorse." Bill Clinton is important in understanding the public confession by McGavick, the Republican taking on Sen. Maria Cantwell. It was McGavick trying to live up to what he calls "authenticity." And in that, Clinton is his model.

Long before his decision to write about his drunken driving, divorce and other misdeeds, McGavick gave a lot of thought to the role of confession in public life.

McGavick says that President Bush provides an example of what not to do. He says Bush's statement during the 2004 campaign that he couldn't think of a mistake he made was one of the worst moments of the Bush presidency.

"It wasn't believable that he didn't have any regrets, that he couldn't recall a single mistake," McGavick said. "It felt like he was being told by his advisers to never admit a mistake, and so he didn't. It wasn't authentic."

For authenticity — which he says is a lot like integrity but a "richer word" — McGavick looks to Clinton.

"Authenticity to me means you are consistent in exposing your inner motivations," McGavick said in a speech last May to the Mainstream Republicans, "so there is completeness to who you are."

In his speech, McGavick explained the concept by comparing Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal to former UW football coach Rick Neuheisel's firing over his involvement in basketball gambling pools.

He said they were "parallel lapses in integrity," yet Clinton kept his job and Neuheisel lost his — even though the stakes of the presidency are so much greater. Clinton prevailed, McGavick argued, because of a "deeper quotient of authenticity." That was true even though no one was surprised by his infidelity.

"It was who we expected him to be in a sense. But we believed he had integrity when it came to his public trust, his service as president. And as a result, when he finally came clean there was some sense of forgiveness, completion and moving on."

Neuheisel got no such break.

"Isn't that an interesting thing? We forgave the president. We fired the football coach," McGavick told the Republicans. "I think it shows the richness, the power, of authentic behavior, and our judgment, our good judgment, when we have it in front of us."

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By many assessments, McGavick's confession was bumbled and projected little authenticity. One GOP-friendly blogger said the missteps "made it look as if his grand confession wasn't so grand after all, and that he was really trying to fudge and finesse."

Clinton had plenty of practice by the time he said he did not have sex with that woman. He had accomplishments, too, and that famous aura of the man who could feel your pain.

Perhaps McGavick was too authentic too soon.

David Postman: 360-236-8267 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

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