Have you noticed how often the president’s supporters talk about the “likeability” factor in politics these days? No longer do we hear that presidential candidates must convey “the vision thing” or “gravitas” or credibility as commander in chief. Not that those criteria were precisely calibrated. Four years ago, many commentators were assuring us that Joe Biden brought gravitas to the Obama ticket, which is a little like saying that helium provides ballast, but at least they thought a certain policy weight was important – even if their perception was ludicrous. This year, however, we are told that voters cast their ballots based mostly upon which candidate they’d prefer to “have a beer with.”
If that truly were the most important qualification in the minds of most voters, we might as well abandon the Electoral College, chuck the Constitution with its complicated rules and just select presidents by liking them on Facebook.
That would suit Obama. When he or his surrogates are not suggesting that the Romney/Ryan team will throw grandma off a cliff or kill steelworkers’ wives, the president seems to revel in his favorite subject: the coolness of Barack Hussein Obama.
Nearly all politicians offer glimpses into their personal lives to humanize and endear them to voters. George W. Bush sometimes described his fitness regimen. His father let it be known that he disliked broccoli. Ronald Reagan had a fondness for jelly beans and horseback riding. Bill Clinton played the sax (to say no more).
But Barack Obama, the man who published his first (of two) autobiographies at the age of 34, has cultivated a cult of coolness about himself. Perhaps because he cannot run on trillion-dollar deficits, the looming fiscal cliff, increasing poverty, the loss of America’s AAA bond rating, or the decline in middle-class incomes. Or perhaps because he is just shallow enough to think that celebrity matters, he has indulged in record-setting levels of vanity during his time in office.
Obama doesn’t just love himself; he also thinks it’s uplifting for others to love him, too. So he has shared his NCAA brackets, slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon and crooned a few Al Green lyrics at a fundraiser. Human-interest fluff, you say? Everybody does it?
Maybe. But consider that in the past few days even some members of the White House press corps were complaining that until Monday, the president hadn’t held a press conference in two months, but he managed to make himself available to “Entertainment Tonight” and People magazine. The world was apparently panting to discover that the president is personally friendly with George Clooney. Yes, and Michelle Obama confides that Clooney is “cute.”
It requires a stratospheric level of self-regard to suggest, as the campaign did with its “Obama Event Registry,” that in lieu of accepting gifts for themselves, Obama supporters should suggest that well-wishers send donations to the Obama campaign instead. “Let your friends know how important this election is to you,” exhorts the site, “register with Obama 2012, and ask for a donation in lieu of a gift.”
Unabashed, the campaign also taped a solicitation featuring the first couple’s blow-by-blow reminiscence about their first date. Offering small details about your life is one thing, but this is like dragooning the entire country into watching your home movies.
“It was a cool date,” the first lady recalls for the ad. Barack apparently showed her “all different aspects of his character.” He took her to the Art Institute of Chicago, where they had lunch by the fountain in the courtyard. Obama winks at the camera. “Guys out there: Art impresses people.” Then they went to see Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing.” Michelle summarizes: “He was hip, cutting edge, cultural, sensitive.” Barack smiles complacently and again addresses the camera: “Take tips, gentlemen.”
While unavailable to discuss the entitlement time bomb, Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons (accompanied by new threats to wipe Israel off the map), our crushing national debt or the record-high joblessness among college graduates, President Obama made himself available to the “Morning Mayhem” show on KOB-FM in New Mexico. For six minutes and 40 seconds, the president discussed a range of issues, from whether Colorado or New Mexico had the best chili to where to get a good hot dog in Chicago to what kind of music he likes to work out to to what kind of superpowers he’d like to have if he were an “Avenger.”
He said he’d like to fly. Had enough yet?