Archives for October, 2009
I’m late to the pile-on because I’m a bad American, and I don’t watch enough football, but not quite two weeks ago, President Obama managed to politicize what for many is a hallowed Monday night ritual.
In the New York Post, the paper of record for those of us who grew up in one of the only red counties on the Jersey Shore, Kyle Smith notes that Obama’s ostensible purpose for inserting himself into Monday Night Football was to proclaim Hispanic Heritage Month, but the president [insisted]:
Our nation faces extraordinary challenges right now, and our ability to tackle them will depend on our willingness to recognize that we’re all in this together, that we each have an obligation to give back to our communities, and we all have a stake in the future of this country.
Generic enough, perhaps, unless you’re oblivious to the political backdrop of the president and his party pushing desperately to pass national health care.
Smith is rightfully exasperated by the perpetual campaign mode and Obama’s omnipresence in every broadcast medium. But–not that it’s a competition–I’d had more than my fill of this sort of thing eight months ago, a month into Obama’s presidency:
When there’s no escape from our national talk-show host-when he appears constantly above every gym treadmill-is it any wonder that we typically want his show cancelled just a few seasons in? Is it any wonder we get sick of him?
You can make too much of the notion of presidential “dignity.” It’s good when the federal chief executive officer fights against the royal aura that inevitably surrounds the office by, for example, walking his inaugural parade route (Jefferson) or buttering his own english muffins (Jerry Ford).
But it seems to me that doing a commercial for George Lopez’s lousy sit-com takes it a bit too far:
(When I saw this on TV recently, I was sure it was some kind of Forrest Gump cinemagic. Not so.)
More to the point, can the president give us an occasional break from his relentless omnipresence? Apparently not.
Six months into his presidency, the Politico reported, Obama had already “uttered more than half a million words in public.” In one whirlwind week last month, the president made his third appearance on “60 Minutes,” gave a major speech on the financial crisis the next day, and made a record five talk-show appearances the following Sunday. And on the eighth day, He did Letterman.
My suspicion is that as his popularity continues to drop, Obama is going to discover not only that there are diminishing returns to presidential media appearances, but that he might do better by letting the country forget about him for a while.
“Why do people hate you?”, a fourth-grade boy asked Obama …. “They’re supposed to love you. And God is love.”
Obama’s answer is actually pretty reasonable. But this is what happens when you make a mere elected politician assume the status of Priest-King. It is, in its own way, a corrupting influence. I don’t blame the kid asking the question since, heck, there are plenty of professional journalists in DC who basically think along the same lines. This isn’t Obama’s fault, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
True enough, Americans had an irrational conception of presidential responsibility long before 44 took office. Still, Obama’s far from blameless. At the same town hall, Obama commented :
“You know, I listen to, sometimes, these reporters on the news: Well, why haven’t you solved world hunger yet?” he joked.
Ha: silly reporters! They should ask the president about something he’s actually promised to do, like provide “a cure for cancer in our time,” or stop the oceans’ rise, or “create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”
Obama’s right that it’s “part of the job” that the president gets an outsized share of credit or blame for the direction of the country. It’s been that way for a long time. As Thomas Cronin put it in his classic 1970 essay “Superman: Our Textbook President”:
on both sides of the presidential popularity equation [the president’s] importance is inflated beyond reasonable bounds. On one side, there is a nearly blind faith that the president embodies national virtue and that any detractor must be an effete snob or a nervous Nellie. On the other side, the president becomes the cause of all personal maladies, the originator of poverty and racism, inventor of the establishment, and the party responsible for a choleric national disposition.
Barack Obama didn’t create this view of presidential responsibility; he inherited it. But, other than the occasional “change is hard” caveat, it’s not as though Obama’s sought to dispel the irrational expectations people invest in the office. To the contrary, he’s done more than any president in living memory to encourage the view that the president is a benevolent father protector endowed with magical powers–a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. It’s the sort of view that people ought to–but often don’t–grow out of by, say, fifth grade. And a good deal of the burgeoning public dissatisfaction with Obama stems from his aggressive attempts to secure powers to match the boundless responsibilities he embraces.
[c/p @ Cato@Liberty]