Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Viewing the presidency . . .

I know daytime talk TV almost exclusively from the gym; from the row of suspended flat-screen TVs mouthing soundlessly at me while I trundle away atop an elliptical.

I usually ignore all those chatting heads and read a book, but this Thursday, if I'm trundling away at 11 AM, I may just watch. That's when my local ABC affiliate, WHSV, broadcasts The View.

This announcement from The View's website, got a lot of buzz yesterday:
Barbara Walters and Bill Geddie, executive producers of The View, announced today that President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, will be the featured guest on Thursday, July 29th. This marks the first time in history a sitting United States president has visited a daytime talk show. . . .

President Obama joined the ladies on the couch in March 2008 before the history-making election.

Of course, President Obama's "unprecedented appearance" is not really without precedent for him, personally-- Candidate Obama (as well as Candidate McCain) appeared on the show back in 2008. But it is unprecedented for President Obama, or, to repeat what I just posted above, for any President of the United States.

But then, you know, this is the Information Age, we all get our information in different ways, and President Obama may be the first sitting president to really, really come to terms with this. Just think back to his effective use of the internet during the campaign.

Which is beginning to seem like a long, long time ago.

President Obama was embraced warmly at his inauguration, but, despite the passage of landmark health care reform and tough financial regulations, his approval numbers as president continue to decline. Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton professor of history and public affairs, addressed this seeming paradox in a CNN op-ed piece last week. Dr. Zelizer cited several factors as reasons for President Obama's sinking numbers.
The first factor has to do with President Obama's decision to focus on controversial issues that he felt were important to the nation, even if they were not the most beneficial issues for his party. In other words, Obama selected issues such as health care and financial regulation that were sure to stimulate conservative opposition and cause concern among moderates.
At the same time, the president is a pragmatic politician who has been willing to cut deals to survive a notoriously difficult legislative process. In making those compromises, he has often angered many of his supporters on the left. The strategy of going big, yet doing so through big compromises, has resulted in an energized conservative movement, uneasy independent voters and a frustrated liberal base.
Given that Barack Obama ran a primary campaign in which he promised to pursue transformative politics and avoid the kind of compromises embraced by President Clinton, this has caused disappointment. Recent comments by the administration dismissing its liberal critics has only intensified bad feelings.

Dr. Zelizer goes on to talk about the nature of the political process and the fact that no president has been able to figure out how to focus the public's attention on what he'd like it to focus on. And that last factor appears to be the reason for President Obama's upcoming daytime talk appearance.

“Given the difficulty of reaching people in this hyperactive media environment, we look for opportunities to reach people in environments that are not traditional forums for political newsmakers,” Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in an e-mail message quoted yesterday in the New York Times blog ArtsBeat . “That’s why we have been willing to have the president on Leno, Letterman and ESPN.”

And now on The View. Which, like everything else a sitting President does, has drawn criticism.

Fox News pointed out yesterday that, while taping his appearance today, the President will miss a chance to speak before 45,000 boy scouts at their annual Jamboree. This revelation unleashed a flood of comments, either very witty or very snarky, depending on your point of view.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell suggested on MSNBC's Morning Joe, that The View (which he compared to Jerry Springer) may not be an appropriate venue for a sitting President of the United States. "I think the president should be accessible, should answer questions that aren't pre-screened, but I think there should be a little bit of dignity to the presidency," Rendell said.

Howard Portnoy, however wrote on 
So how bad a miscalculation is it for the president to appear with Whoopi and company?
I'm inclined to agree with Laura Ingraham, who as a guest host for Bill O'Reilly last night, opined "not at all." Ingraham's contention is that viewers who tune in to The View are probably not likely to vote in the fall midterms anyway and that if Obama were somehow to present a charming and rousing version of himself (as he is capable of doing), he might actually persuade some of these people to turn out at the polls.
If the medium is the message, perhaps The View is not the most presidential of podiums. However, if the medium gets the President's message out to people it hasn't gotten to before, The View then becomes the bulliest of pulpits.

So, what's your reaction? Do you plan to watch?

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