Alex Balk of The Awl already efficiently ripped
—people have been calling Barack Obama aloof and inscrutable for too long, so it’s time to complain that he is oversharing. But really there are layers and layers of witlessness and perniciousness to it. Here are the questions writer Linton Weeks raises about the modern presidency:
[D]oes our increasingly informal relationship with the man in the White House — not just President Obama, but any sitting president — diminish our respect for the man and reverence for the office? Should we leave the uncovering of private and behind-closed-doors habits to the historians?
We’re not talking about major scandals here. We’re talking about a puff of tobacco or a mild BlackBerry addiction. Do we need to know all of these details? Would we be better off as a country if we focused less on the personal quirks and traits and more on the professional successes and failures of our commander in chief? In other words, when it comes to the most famous politician in America, does familiarity breed contempt?
According to Weeks, the answer is yes, yes, heck yes, golly yes, yes on down the line. The dignity of the presidency has been corroded from the days when J.F.K. could gobble down pain pills and bang hookers all day long, or when Warren Harding could get away with all his hijinks. (Or Edith Wilson could maybe take a stab at running the country while her husband was debilitated by a stroke, though Weeks saves that episode for the sidebar.)
[I]n the mid-1990s, the Internet, with its unruliness and rudeness, let the cat completely out of the bag. Bill Clinton and the two George Bushes lived in constantly scrutinized — and widely reported on — fishbowls.
We seemed to know everything — and more — about Clinton. His health, his skivvies, his sax, his sex, his Socks. The fact that Clinton had a 66 percent approval rating when he left office is an anomaly.
The second Bush, on the other hand, fell from 90 percent approval rating in September 2001 — at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon — to just 34 percent when he left office in 2009.
President Obama’s numbers, so far, have the same downward trajectory.
Really? Obama had 90 percent approval? Oh, right:
. OK, Google offers up the results from the Republican-backing
, straightaway, and so let’s see, yes: Obama started off with 65 percent approval, and now he is at 47 percent. If he keeps losing support at that rate, over the course of two four-year terms, Obama will end up with an approval rating of negative 7 percent.
And it will be because the American people just know too darned much about him. That is why George W. Bush lost all those points off his approval rating. Not because the economy collapsed, he started two (official) wars that went badly, and his administration was feckless and passive as large-scale destruction struck two different major cities. No, it was totally the pretzel thing. And yet somehow Bill Clinton—an anomaly—escaped the same fate.
Fine, let’s suppose that’s the case. Sure, some people might think that presidents start off with good approval ratings because they have just been elected, and their agenda consists of a list of things that they promise they will set about doing for the good of the nation, and the public hopes they will succeed. And then the actual governing starts, and the president gets blamed when things go wrong, and the promises don’t match the achievements, and the usual infighting and corruption creep in. And all the while the opposition party is exploiting or creating the problems that the president encounters, emphasizing the awful distance between the fumbling governing that the president is doing and the excellent governing that the opposition party promises it would do if common sense and justice were allowed to prevail in the next election. You could suppose that those things, alone—history, plus the Political Process—would drive down a president’s approval ratings.
But let’s not. Let’s go ahead and suppose that the main problem facing presidents is the flood of trivial information about them or the revelation of their human foibles. (Except—good gravy!—for Bill Clinton, the anomaly. Sorry, it’s hard to let that one go by.) Well, what is the role of a piece like this in that process? It is bad, Weeks argues, that we know that Barack Obama prefers a certain brand of beer (a not very flavorful, Middle American one). Did we know that? I had no idea. Or it sounds like something I might have heard or read once, and then promptly forgot, because it didn’t matter. Also Joe Biden doesn’t drink. Obama wears a size 11 shoe. It is very oppressive to know all of these facts, here, in this article about how we—we?—know too many facts about the president. It diminishes our respect for the office.
So what drives down the president’s approval ratings, according to this piece? Pieces like this do. The essay is a letter from a fart, complaining about how bad things smell inside people’s undershorts.