Performing Presidents


Michelle Obama recently made another appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. You can be sure that President Obama will be on the show at some point before the elections as well. Then on to David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, The View, (does Oprah still have a show?), Good Morning America, and Today. While we’re at it, why not Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, The Kardashians, and Dancing with the Stars?

Not to be outdone, you’ll be seeing plenty of Mitt and Ann Romney on all those shows too. That’s the way politics is done now. Guest spots on entertainment shows. Political campaigning is like one long book tour. Don’t expect the candidates to show up and talk about all those dry, boring issues, either. No, that’s not how it’s done. They come on with “bits,” they do “routines.” Gags are written for them, funny repartee to do with the hosts. If they play an instrument or think they can sing, they’ll do that too. If they could do gymnastics they would.

As they say, it’s all a part of the selling of a president. Running for president is big time show biz. Thanks to PR firms, ad agencies, personal managers, style consultants, focus groups, and God knows what else, candidates for the highest office in the land look more like American Idol contestants. It’s a popularity contest, a beauty pageant. I know they’ve all got to do it, but I don’t like it. It’s not in keeping with the dignity of the office.

It’s not about the man with the best ideas for our country; it’s about the coolest dude in the room. Nobody cares if the guy wants to raise taxes, increase America’s debt, or put more people on welfare as long as he performs well on TV shows. That’s the thinking, anyway. What a shame past presidents like FDR didn’t know this secret of success.

President Roosevelt could have performed on the radio, trading quips with Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, or Amos and Andy; when President Eisenhower ran for reelection he might have made history by doing comedy sketches with Milton Berle or Sid Caesar; and think how great it would have been to see John Kennedy on with Red Skelton in a Clem Kadiddlehopper skit. Too bad our presidential candidates just weren’t that hip back then.

Every presidential candidate today is told he or she MUST do the television show circuit, and the fact is, if one does it, the other one has to or else risk looking like he’s not one of the regular folks, or is afraid to appear for some reason. “It’s good exposure,” they’re told. “You will reach an audience you might otherwise not reach.”

We can trace the beginning of this trend to Richard Nixon when he showed up on Laugh-In and did his “Sock it to me” bit. That did it. That year the era of the serious, dignified presidential candidate died and a new era of pop culture candidate was born. From then on, nothing a candidate could do on TV was considered too far out. Clinton played jazz saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show; Obama sings rhythm and blues anywhere he gets the chance; maybe Romney needs to learn to dance a Russian Kazatski — it might help.

All of these TV performances are nothing but a dumbing down of the presidential election process and pandering to the lowest common denominator. It’s not cute, it’s not “cool,” and it’s not helpful to see men that we expect to lead our country trading one-liners with Jon Stewart. I don’t need my president to be a comic, I can throw on a Bob Hope or Laurel and Hardy DVD any time I want some laughs.

Call me old–fashioned but I don’t want my president to be an entertainer, I want my president to be serious, dignified, and presidential. I want my president to be respected and taken seriously by world leaders, not beloved by TV studio audiences. Because guess what? The “coolest dude” in real life isn’t the guy who can scat blues or blow a hot sax, it’s the guy who can put Americans back to work, get us out of debt, uphold our Constitution, and reestablish American credibility and strength around the world.

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