Obama Doesn't Get How to Be President

Lame TV ads? What's next? Nothing good.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Ronald Reagan was said to have been a fan of Back to the Future, the mid-'80s blockbuster about a time-traveling teen who inadvertently interferes with his parents getting together and has to set things right, as well as figure out a way to get back to his own time, before he disappears from existence. His affection for the film was probably due in no small part to the fact that it poked gentle fun at Reagan's film career (a movie marquee seen in the film advertises Reagan starring alongside Barbara Stanwick in Cattle Queen of Montana) and the seeming improbability (in 1955) of his jump into politics.

Anyway, shortly after leaving the White House, Reagan was asked—or so the story goes—to appear in a cameo in the trilogy's final film, set for the most part in the year 1885, as the mayor of the mythical town in which all three films are set. All told, he would have been on screen for less than a minute, but it would have been one more of the series' many clever allusions to the idea that history does, in fact, repeat itself, a lot. And the audience would have loved it.

Unfortunately—and, again, the whole idea may have been nothing more than Hollywood gossip or somebody's good idea that never came to anything—the former president declined the offer because, in the bigger scheme of things, even a brief return to his former life in front of the camera, all in good fun, would have been unpresidential.

If the story is true, the decision not to appear was the right one. The president of the United States must jealously guard his image and his reputation, for he and the office are one, at least for as long as he holds it. And a vestige of that responsibility remains with them even after they leave. A person who has been leader of the free world has a responsibility to act like one, at least when they are in the public eye.

So imagine my shock, surprise, and amazement the other night when I happened to catch the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, Barack H. Obama, playing second fiddle to a second-rate comedian in a TV spot promoting a new late-night television talk show—and on basic cable no less.

The spot, which looked like it had been filmed inside the White House, was decidedly unfunny, which does not auger well for the talk show it was promoting. But more than that, having the president of the United States appear in a commercial, while still in office yet seemed, well, unseemly.

There are those in recent days who have written that Obama is, perhaps, overexposed, that he has become too accessible and, as a result, he is unable to persuade the nation that his vision for change in America is, after all, the right one. The idea that he has time to appear in commercials promoting new TV shows does not make him more presidential; it makes him smaller. It reduces the people's opinion of him and therefore reduces his effectiveness as a leader.

David Axelrod and company may have designed a campaign to win the White House that presented Obama as more like a "rock star" or "pop idol" rather than as a candidate for public office. But now they're in the big show, and they have to act like it.

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