It's not often that a think tank wonk would admit that Snooki, "Jersey Shore's" petite starlet, inspired a book. But Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said at an event there Tuesday that his new book, "What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched and Obama Tweeted," came about after seeing President Obama speak Snooki's name.
"It struck me how bizarre it was that the president of the United States was actually citing this person from the presidential podium," Troy said, recalling how Obama made a tanning tax joke about Snooki during the 2010 White House Correspondents' Dinner. "And it lead to this question appearing in my mind – are we better off with a president who knows who Snooki is, or a president who doesn't know who Snooki is."
These questions lead Troy to explore the history of presidents and pop culture, and the author gathered rich anecdotes from nearly every administration.
For instance, President John F. Kennedy's affinity for Hollywood only went as far as its female stars. "In fact the number of starlets with whom he was associated with rivaled the number of movies he actually watched when he was in the White House," Troy explained.
Making the point that presidents are part of television, Troy recalled that Hillary Clinton didn't have a lot of choices for viewing during the Lewinsky scandal. "She's clicking and she's clicking and she can't find any channels and she's getting increasingly frustrated," Troy said. "And finally, finally she comes to ESPN – now Hillary was not, is not, an ESPN fan – but on that day she settled for some sports programming."
President-elect John Quincy Adams loved the theater until the players at a D.C. playhouse referenced his close election (the Bush vs. Gore of that age) to his face and got the audience to laugh and cheer for his political rival. "John Quincy Adams was so upset that, even though he had been a theater buff before, he significantly curtailed his theater going after that incident," Troy said.
While known for his fireside chats, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio time was rare and well-planned. "He had a tooth that whistled and he would put in a false tooth to prevent the whistling before he went out on the airwaves," Troy said. "And he also used a special paper that didn't rustle, so people would think that he was speaking off the cuff and not hear the rustling of the paper."
Troy, who in a past life was deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration, tried to remain nonpartisan throughout the book. But he did have some advice for those pop culture averse Republicans.
"I think that the Republicans need to understand the pop culture and to understand the pop culture better than they have been doing so in recent elections," Troy said. Making an example of Mitt Romney, Troy pointed out that the former GOP presidential candidate referred to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Seinfeld." "It's dated," he said of the Matthew Broderick flick, and long-since off the air NBC hit.. "Those references to 'Seinfeld' are two decades old," Troy noted.
"Presidents need to be a little bit more up to date than Governor Romney showed in that election," Troy acknowledged. "But we do not want to think about a president who is watching reality TV," Troy also pointed out.