President Obama ambled onto the set of The View this morning and said, “I like hangin’ out with women.” He fielded questions about the economy, gay marriage, and Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone was “pussycat nice,” in the squirmy phrase of Barbara Walters.
Appearing beneath a banner that read “Red White and View,” Obama told Whoopi Goldberg that, regarding the J.P. Morgan disaster, “Jamie Dimon is one of the smartest bankers we’ve got.” He corrected Elisabeth Hasselbeck when she characterized the President’s and Mitt Romney’s positions on gay marriage as essentially the same (Romney is “for a Constitutional amendment [banning gay marriage], and for DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], so there are real differences,” he told Hasselbeck). He also answered a pop quiz conducted by Joy Behar:
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The View would have made headlines if this media appearance had gone as originally planned: As was widely reported, Obama had originally thought he might announce his “evolved” stance on gay marriage on this episode, but the Vice President’s remarks on the subject prompted Obama to go elsewhere and earlier on ABC News. As it was, today’s View appearance was pretty anodyne, neither illuminating nor amusing, and, well, pointless. If Obama wanted to press the flesh with potential voters, he could have done it on the rope line with the View’s studio audience. Why subject himself to the softballs and piffle of daytime TV hosts (or nighttime ones, for that matter)? I know the obvious answer – that doing these shows offers a huge-audience opportunity to “humanize” a candidate. And here I will include the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in this, who will doubtless start making the entertainment-TV rounds at some point.
But showing you’re “human” on these shows usually means two things: You, as candidate, have to answer awkwardly phrased questions about important issues and deliver answers that are sufficiently conversational so as to keep casual viewers from tuning away. (The result: Nothing added to the national discussion.) The second thing it means is that you, the candidate, have to grin and bear it when you’re asked questions about your pop-culture likes and dislikes. These exchanges always stink of pre-arranged agreements, material that’s been vetted by the candidate’s “people” so as not to cause the President any embarrassment. (Although even admitting you recognize the name “Kardashian” docked you a notch with me, Mr. President.)
Really, the only time these entertainment venues yield news – or, more accurately, pseudo-news – is when the politician discloses some unexpected quirk in taste, or does something show-bizzy (see: Clinton, Bill; saxophone). It’s usually, however, just a polite waste of time.
At a moment when a New York Times poll says that most people think Obama’s “evolving” position on gay marriage was “mostly for political reasons,” going on places like The View just adds to the idea that many public statements are mere media calculations. Had Obama made his gay-marriage announcement on The View, that jaded public belief might have been increased. If you’re going to spend time on TV, Mr. President – and Mr. Romney – do us all a favor and skip Whoopi and The Daily Show and Jay and Dave and the Jimmys and all the celebrity news anchors on the networks. Just speak to us directly, or engage in debates that are real debates which will allow for considered thought and direct questioning of your opponent’s positions.
Thanks. Now, hey, did you see this funny Mitt Romney mash-up?