Pop Culture Presidency

After election analysis can be interesting, but when it comes from the same people who got the pre-election analysis wrong it should be taken with many grains of salt. After election reactions can also be rather elitist.  I know it is easy to want to disparage those who voted against a supported candidate in a “How dare you” tone.  Political junkies kind of expect everybody else to be political junkies.

Still I was trying to understand the dynamics of this election and was not really finding a key to understanding it.  I was listening to Al Kresta and he said something that kind of provided that key of understanding to me.  That President Obama has become a cultural icon and the election turned more on this than an endorsement of his politics.  There are several seemingly incongruent facts that then make more sense when seen in this light. Being a cultural icon and a pop culture president you become more immune from nasty facts such as the state of the economy.  Scandals that might have overturned one president can be endured with this status.  We heard again and again how his election in 2008 was a “historic event” as if all historical events are not historical events.  The fact that as a leader he was rather dangerously inept did not matter as much considering he was such a part of the culture visiting cable and TV shows, appearing on a radio show with the “Pimp with the Limp”, opining about personal conflicts on American Idol, schmoozing with the Hollywood elite and others from the entertainment industry.

President Clinton was a bit of a pop culture President appearing on Arsenio Hall’s show and  other cultural interactions. But President Obama has been the master of this and transcending the act to a whole new level.  He was most comfortable and engaged with the pop culture.  Really having to do his job as President always seemed like a nuisance to him. People call the Affordable Care Act Obamacare, but he was not the driving force behind it.  It was Rep. Nancy Pelosi who did the heavy lifting and getting the Democrats in line to vote for it. Sure the President helped out concerning a couple of wrinkles at the end like writing a worthless executive order to soothe the conscience of Bart Stupak. Actually meeting with legislators to hammer out a budget was just too much work.  He created a jobs council and then didn’t meet with it. If he spent as much time thinking about the economy as he did working out the NCAA brackets it might have been interesting.  If we ever needing an Ambassador to Hollywood surely he is the person to fill that job.

As a cultural icon he seemed to see his job as being cool and relating to young people and he mostly achieved that. Sure that is an overly broad generalization, but I think there is some truth in it.  Pop culture icons can be forgiven much and don’t have to be tied to promises and a record with little to brag about.  When the Nobel Prize committee gave him the Nobel Peace Prize at the very start of his administration they contributed to the cultural iconification where the idea of him was more important than the facts of him.  This election fundamentally has not been much different where the idea of him still triumphs.  Sure there is not an insignificant number of people who are with him all the way politically, but that he not what earned him another four years.  It seems many people still went out to vote for him mainly to feel good about themselves than to feel good about the direction of the country as some exit polling seemed to show.

What I think this means for the future is not that social conservatism and conservative ideas are dead on arrival as far as the culture is concerned.  The confluence of events that created the pop culture president is not going to be the defining truth for elections to come. This was more personality than politically driven.  The answer certainly is not for conservatives to try to imitate the pop culture aspect of his success – they never will, but they certainly have a long way to go to engage the youth and others.  In some ways President Reagan also became a pop culture phenomenon on his own terms with his extolling of conservative ideas along with a sense of humor broke through to a generation that other conservatives would have written off.  Romney was not effective engaging the new media and didn’t even spend money on ads at, for example, Hulu.  President Obama has been all over the old and new media including sites such as Reddit.  Certainly there are the younger generation of conservatives that are using the new media and maybe the next candidate will learn a thing or two from them.


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Jeffrey Miller (790 Posts)

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