Politicians, especially presidents, have done their best to convince the people that they are somehow “like us.” During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidates from both parties appeared on late-night comedy shows with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to poke fun at themselves and the process.
During the election, pollsters often ask voters which candidate they would rather have a beer with.
While this may gauge voters’ comfort level with a candidate, it does not measure leadership or fitness for office.
Barack Obama has ushered in the era of the celebrity and pop-culture presidency. In early February, just as his administration was getting under way, President Obama granted an interview to NBC’s Matt Lauer in the hours leading up to the Super Bowl. Lauer showed him a magazine cover with his wife and daughters, from which he had been cropped and replaced with a photo of Jessica Simpson. The President felt compelled to comment on the story that bumped him from the magazine cover — that Simpson was battling a weight problem.
The president invited an ESPN reporter to interview him as he filled in his bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Not only did he want the country to know that he picked the University of North Carolina to win, but now ESPN continues to report on the accuracy of his predictions.
In a much-hyped appearance on “The Tonight Show,” Obama sought to convince the nation that his administration has the economic crisis under control.
His unfortunate remark about the Special Olympics aside, he failed to give the nation confidence. He admitted to Leno that it was “cool” being president and that he gets a jacket with the presidential seal when he is aboard Air Force One.
He also noted that being president was like being on “American Idol” and everyone is like Simon Cowell.
All of this personality publicity seems to send the message that Obama wants to be our pal, the good-natured coworker we see at the water cooler who knows all of the dialogue to Will Ferrell movies.
The country is lacking leadership, especially when those he has appointed to his Cabinet who cannot pay their taxes or their backgrounds disqualify them from Senate confirmation.
President Obama’s celebrity driven media blitz has been demeaning to his office and shows a lack of seriousness for the nation’s economic woes. His supporters have repeatedly said that appearing on “The Tonight Show,” he reaches out to people who are not involved in the political process.
Nonsense. Americans today have more access to information than ever before. They need a leader who has a clear vision and who can inspire confidence.
His image-building campaign has fallen short of the mark. Obama should not go on these shows until he has accomplished something, and he has gained the nation’s confidence in handling the economic crisis.
If President Obama wants a lesson on how to manage a crisis when he enters office, he need only look to two of his predecessors: Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt. While Obama is clearly enjoying his newfound fame, Reagan was a genuine celebrity before he entered politics.
He knew how the tabloid media worked. But more importantly, he transformed himself into a student of public policy — particularly the punitive effects of high taxes.
Ronald Reagan also assumed office during a recession. He proposed a bold plan for tax reduction, and most importantly, used the prestige of his office and his own powers of persuasion to sell is plan and inspire confidence in the nation. His use of humor was well-timed and used appropriately.
Franklin Roosevelt, who had to contend with an economic crisis greater than the one facing the United States today, used the medium of radio to instill calm in the people. At the time, radio was simultaneously the only truly national medium and also the most intimate. But his Fireside Chats were not an attempt to make jokes or comment on the latest celebrity fad.
Mr. Obama would also be wise to remember as he enjoys all of the media attention is that both Reagan and Roosevelt both failed in their first attempts for national office. It took years of preparation for them to make it to the White House.
Obama’s political rise has been meteoric. But maybe this media blitz will cause the public to eventually lose interest in his behind-the-scenes activities.
Difficult times require serious leadership, not America’s pal.
Kevin P. McVicker is account supervisor with Shirley & Banister Public Affairs in Alexandria, Va.
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