Barack Obama spent a lot of the last week trying to convince Americans that he was just one of us. Sitting on the sofa at “The Tonight Show,” he worked hard to prove that he’s a regular guy -- offhandedly referencing “American Idol,” talking about his daughters’ love for candy, sharing our outrage at the government’s mishandling of TARP money. Earlier in the week, he let the country in on his predictions for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
The problem, of course, is that once a president goes too far acting like an “ordinary guy,” well, that’s how he’s going to be treated. Learning that the President had disparaged their teams’ chances, Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, suggested that “the economy is something that [Obama] should focus on, probably more than the brackets,” while Oklahoma Sooners coach Jeff Capel suggested that “the President stick to running the country.”
One sometimes suspects that Obama makes such an effort to seem like a regular guy because, on some level, he suspects he isn’t – and because he doubts Americans’ capacity to support or relate to him unless he constantly shores up his everyman credibility. Hence his wife’s assurances that she’s the one who helps him “keep it real,” the President’s studied informality with the press and others, and the repeated discussion of the pending purchase of the new White House pet (yet another campaign promise still unfulfilled).
What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that if a President and his policies command Americans’ respect and support, he doesn’t need to be “typical” (after all, how many of us were Hollywood movie stars like Ronald Reagan?). The difficulty for Obama, of course, is that opposition to his policies and public doubts about him are growing.
Chatting with Jay Leno doesn’t solve the problem. Even had Obama’s appearance been unmarred by a swipe at the athletes in the Special Olympics, it would simply have enhanced his likability – not secured Americans’ respect. Far from it, in fact.