Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Accessible Obamas

The First Couple is out in the real world this week, the President sympathizing with people who have lost their jobs in California and scheduled to schmooze with Jay Leno tonight, while the First Lady is hugging DC school kids and encouraging them to dream big.

The Obamas are easily the most accessible people ever to occupy the White House, and an aged skeptic keeps waiting for the inevitable backlash that will brand their attempts to connect with voters as cosmetic and manipulative.

When Lynda Bird Johnson was working for me during the Johnson Administration, a coworker watching her at an office meeting complained, "Who does she think she is, pretending to be just like other people?"

In the era of connectivity, the White House's societal role is being redefined, and the balance between the President as an authority figure and a source of empathy in hard times is being recalibrated.

So far, as the polls show, Obama is holding on to voters' trust without pretending to perfection, as he did yesterday in deflecting blame from his advisers for the AIG bonuses. But real trials are ahead.

If the economy keeps stumbling, the public's need for a stern father figure rather than a smart, good-hearted big brother will be put to the test, and the "I feel your pain" cliché may collide with "Nice guys finish last."

At least that's what the shiftless Republican relatives are counting on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd say the accessibility definitely helps people, as does the somewhat unusual background of the President - in a diverse nation, he rather fits in. It is, if nothing else, a psychological comfort.

As for the need for a "stern father", oddly I'm not sure the Republicans can manage that. The party has definitely gone the "frat boy" direction with George W. Bush and assorted talk radio personalities. I don't think they can offer an actual sense of maturity, which people are seeking.