Last week, while on a two-day jaunt out to my neck of the woods, the President made a special appearance on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.” It was touted as the first time a sitting President had ever appeared on a late-night comedy show. Pundits speculated that the President wanted a piece of Leno’s ‘jedermann’ influence, particularly in discussing his personal anger over the AIG fiasco.
And then a retard joke ‘happened’. Actually the quip was couched in much more benign terms (a Special Olympics joke)! A moment of self-deprecating wit in response to his bowling prowess revealed the much bigger issue at hand: firstly, that Obama is funny; and secondly, that late-night comedy shows are a poor stage for any President. This is true not because most Presidents aren’t capable of being funny. Rather, the Office of the President of the United States is such a burden of a higher calling that the banal chatter that comprises The Tonight Show, or the Late Show, or the Late Late Show, is completely beneath the level of decorum expected of someone who’s serious charge of duty is defending the Constitution. Perhaps there is a reason why Obama is the first sitting President to appear on such a show…and hopefully the last.
This gives way to a broader issue of sociology: the societal destruction of reverence for earned titles, positions, and responsibilities. Politicians, particularly those of a patrician background (of which almost all are members) have always sought to break down the barriers between their snarky, ivy-league pasts and the beer-drinking, wal-mart-shopping people whom they supposedly serve. President Obama’s appearance and unintentional ‘gaffe,’ as its being called, is indicative of his burning desire to be seen as a different kind of President: one who has dinner with his wife and kids every night, tucks them into bed, uses his blackberry, plays b-ball outside with other random black people….just like everyone else.
The fact of the matter is that the President IS NOT like everyone else, no matter who he is. He summons armies and navies to battle, he flies around in a 747 emblazoned with our flag, he has the authority to exonerate the convicted, and he preempts my evening television shows. Particularly in regard to the latter, the power of the Presidency of the United States is revealed. So I, for one, am pleased that the person who holds this office is not an everyman. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these moralists who believes Presidents don’t tell racist jokes or have affairs. I simply understand the need for a separation between who we are to our close friends and who we are in holders of public responsibility. Take a page out of LBJ’s book…. he drops the N-word in those private Oval Office tapes like he’s sprinkling candy to children, however he did more for the advancement of African Americans than any other modern President.
Make your little off-color jokes to your buddies with whom you play b-ball outside after school, and hopefully a couple of retard-lovers who are up to no good, won’t make trouble in your neighborhood.