Over the past week, there’s been a lot of talk about Barack Obama’s exposure to the public and the media. He’s appeared on Leno, he’s appeared on 60 Minutes, and after last night’s snoozefest of a prime-time press conference, some are left wondering if this kind of marathon charm offensive is going to wear thin. Yesterday on The View, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cautioned that it feels like the “he’s on the campaign again.” We’ve heard similar warnings of overexposure from the Daily News’ Mike Lupica, CBS’ Chris Wragge, and Meghan McCain, of all people.
According to Chuck Todd and friends, Obama’s continued high job-approval polls can be taken (and certainly are by the White House) as a sign that these public appearances go over well with the public. Instead of staying quiet in a week when critics were calling the AIG-bonuses snafu his “Hurricane Katrina” moment (seriously? People died), Obama was plainly trying to have his voice — and side — heard. And so far, people are still listening.
There are a few other obvious net positives for staying on-camera and part of the dialogue. Last night on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow (who, after watching a satellite chat between the president and crew members of the Discovery space station, called it “an international media blitz”) theorized that these direct appeals were efforts to earn him enough political capital to affect the change he wants. Opening himself to questions and handling them adeptly (and even wonkishly) restores public confidence that we have a president who knows what he is talking about and doing. And the Times observed last night that Obama seems to be simply taking the chance to urge America to resilience and calm by appearing continually, well, resilient and calm himself.
As hard as certain members of the media have tried to make this “overexposure” meme into a legitimate story, it’s just not. It’s just like when people wondered whether the Rod Blagojevich scandal, in which Obama’s hands were perfectly clean, was nonetheless going to ruin him politically. This question was legitimized on cable news simply because there were enough critics to go on the air and ask it. Does anybody even remember Rod Blagojevich these days?
It’s not even that Obama is trying to earn the obvious positives that come with campaign-style selling of his positions (which no doubt he is). It’s that he’s doing very basically what a president should do — explaining the problems facing the country to a nervous public, going above and beyond to appear like he knows what he’s doing, and trying to make his decisions as transparent as possible. If it smells at all of desperation, consider the context: For the past eight years we had a president notorious for opaque governing. George Bush wouldn’t address the country even in times of need, and when he did, his answers to questions in press conferences were often simple, evasive, and even touchy. After that, of course it seems like Obama is going above and beyond the call of duty with a handful of candid appearances.
When Obama went on Leno, critics fretted that he should have used the time to focus on the economy — as though presidents can’t get any work done on the plane. See, it’s possible to do the work of a commander-in-chief and also do occasional interviews. There’s time. We’re just used to a president who spent less time actually on the job than any other in recent memory.
In a month, the media will forget this overexposure meme as the public gets used to being regularly reminded of Obama’s steady hand on the wheel. In fact, you can bet that if a week or two go by without a public appearance by the president, you’ll eventually see headlines shouting, “WHERE’S BARACK?” Can we just skip ahead to that, now?