This seems like a good time to admit a personal bias: I’m prejudiced against daytime TV.
I realize this is irrational. It’s just that where I come from, watching daytime TV is something you do when you have the flu or it’s raining on a Saturday or a boyfriend has dumped you and there happens to be a “You’ve Got Mail” marathon on cable.
Turning on the TV during the day, especially to watch talk shows, has always struck me as an indulgence that comes with the urge to change into sweatpants and reach for a bag of Cheetos.
Consequently, I’ve missed some important moments in American pop culture. I didn’t see Tom Cruise jump on Oprah’s sofa or Dr. Phil‘s attempt to rescue Britney Spears. And I’ve never seen an entire episode of “The View.”
President Obama‘s appearance Thursday with the five co-hosts of “The View” struck me as such an incongruous idea that I had to watch it. Thankfully, I did this online rather than on the network when it aired last week, so I was able to skip the commercial breaks. I’m sure I would become despondent watching segments of conversation with the leader of the free world interspersed with ads for laundry soap and birth-control pills.
The appearance once again raised questions about what it means to be “presidential” in our celebrity-obsessed culture. Despite its forays into political chitchat, “The View” is an entertainment show, after all. The week that included our president also found actor James Marsden, actress Patricia Clarkson, celebrity physician Dr. Roshini Raj and rapper 50 Cent in the “hot seat.” (Someone cue the “applause” sign.)
The thinking seems to be that it’s OK for candidates to make appearances on entertainment programs but that once one is elected, the role of governing ought to suggest restraint from such trivial media jaunts.
If this is the case, Mr. Obama‘s visit to “The View” was entirely appropriate. It wasn’t President Obama who appeared on the show, but candidate Obama, on an obvious mission to stop the hemorrhaging of approval among independent women voters in the face of upcoming midterm elections.
It’s only natural that when a president offers a window into his personality, we want to take a closer look. Samuel Adams said, “The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.” I confess I was curious about the man I would see on the hot seat. Co-host Barbara Walters opened that window when she asked, “What would you like your legacy to be?” (Thank the Lord, she didn’t ask, “What makes you cry?”) A president, acting and speaking presidentially, would have used that moment to connect his leadership to the cause of freedom and liberty and prosperity, which marks our nation as uniquely admirable in the world. He would have elevated his aspirations above mere politics and articulated a vision of the future to which he might contribute something more than just policy. He might at least have imagined a legacy that reflected his hopes for the next generation. Anything that sounded as if he understood the question.
What he understood was to stay on message, so our celebrity/candidate president gave a vapid 206-word stump speech about health care, education and energy.
This is not a legacy. This is a legislative recap. And frankly, not a very successful one considering polls that show nearly 60 percent of voters would like to repeal the health care bill, his crowning achievement.
Was this a presidential “View”? No. It couldn’t be, not just because the show itself lacks the seriousness and sobriety of a legitimate media appearance for a sitting president, but because the man simply doesn’t seem to get what it means to carry such a profound mantle of leadership.