Hail to the Comic

Embracing popular culture isn't inappropriate 

Here are my two cents on the controversy over the "dignity" of the presidency. I'm against it. If presidents try to use the majesty of the office to get their point across, that's their business. Jonathan Chait is right to dismiss those who complain that President Barack Obama soiled the dignity of the office by appearing on Zach Galifianakis' comedy show, "Between Two Ferns":

Why is it the role of the press to worry that the president is coming across too much like an equal citizen and not enough like a monarch? Washington's dignity fetish is one of those manifestations of the cult of the presidency that expresses some really weird ideas about how democracy is supposed to work.

As for Republicans who are upset ... Well, those are the same Republicans who complain about a supposed imperial presidency.

Presidents are successful politicians, not kings. 1 They should take seriously the job of representing their constituents. Among other things, that means they should attempt to keep promises about style, as well as substance. Obama never campaigned as someone who would revel in the majesty of the office (as with most other recent national candidates, he went on late-night television talk shows and other such venues). Therefore, it would be a far greater failure for him to scorn ordinary cultural outlets than it is for him to participate, whether that means sitting down with Galifianakis or filling out his hoops brackets on ESPN.

We can debate whether this is an effective communications tactic, but just forget this idea that presidents should have dignity.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

  1. I've said it before: I really wish one of the former presidents would insist that everyone drop the "Mr. President." For obvious reasons, Obama isn't the one to do it. George H.W. Bush would be ideal, but I don't think he will do it, either.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him onTwitter at @JBPlainblog.)

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

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