Just before New Year's, a story by Michael Shear in the New York Times about what President Barack Obama watches on television set some conservative bloggers atwitter.
According to Shear, the president prefers things that are "edgy, with hints of reality," including AMC's "Breaking Bad," HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "Boardwalk Empire," and Netflix's "House of Cards," an American remake of a British miniseries of the same name about a ruthless politician's unethical climb to the top of what Benjamin Disraeli called "the greasy pole."
To summarize, the complaints about the piece boiled down to the idea that such revelations – if you can call them that – are unpresidential. That somehow the president's television preferences are not the business of the American people.
It's one thing for Obama to appear in a commercial hawking a late-night television show. It's another thing entirely for the White House to take steps to make it known to the American people what the nation's chief executive likes to watch in his downtime. In fact, it's a stroke of brilliance.
What the liberals understand and conservative fail to grasp is that in the age of information everything is media. By disclosing what the president's favorite television shows are or what his picks for the NCAA brackets may be or what music he likes to listen to, his political team is giving him the opportunity to meet the people where they are, not where they might want them to be.
This is a critically important concept that many Republicans fail to grasp. The country is turned off to politics. Americans think Washington is dysfunctional, that both parties are seeking political advantage, that neither are wedded to principle, and that they are ignoring what is in the country's best interests in order to position themselves for the next election.
Part of that simply reflects back the analysis the mainstream media has been providing since Obama was re-elected and his initiatives ground to a halt. Congress still includes people of principle on both sides of the aisle who are pursing objectives they genuinely believe to be good for America, despite what The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC may be saying. But part of it, unfortunately, is true. One reason so many Democrats rushed to embrace "The West Wing" on NBC back in 1999 is that Jed Bartlett was a better president than Bill Clinton. Even though he was a fictional character, Bartlett was an effective, even admirable left-of-center president who inspired people. As even some commentators observed at the time, Bartlett was what many people wished Clinton would be.
The counterpoint to this was seen in the 2012 presidential election, when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was asked if he knew any NASCAR drivers. Romney's response – that he didn't know any drivers but did know a few owners – reinforced the Democrat's message that Romney was out of touch, that – given the popularity of NASCAR, especially among the party's southern and conservative base – he didn't understand what it was like to be an ordinary American.
Obama was sold to the American people like new and improved laundry soap, the latest model sports car coming out of Detroit or Hollywood's newest teen idol. The American people met him in places that were essentially on the fringes of the political arena rather than in the middle of it. By talking about what he likes to watch on television, his political team is keeping that conversation going, even stepping it up because – as his approval numbers continue to drop – the ancillary conversations about seemingly extraneous subjects become all the more important. Rather than attack the communications strategy it represents, Republicans would do well to analyze it, understand it and adopt it.