Claims that President Obama’s poor performance in the debate Wednesday night was due to poor preparation are grossly unfair. He was well prepared; moderator Jim Lehrer just didn’t ask the right questions.
If instead of boring stuff like the economy and health care, Obama had been asked about his favorite chili recipe and super hero, and what’s on his iPod, he’d have done fine.
After all, those are the kind of probing, scintillating questions the president’s been facing this campaign season, and it showed Wednesday night.
The questions about chili and iPods, for example, come from his August interview on a radio show in an Albequerque radio show station, which also wanted to get his opinion on Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit single “Call Me Maybe.”
A half-time interview on ESPN2 in July had him wrestling with the question of whether the 1992 Dream Team could beat our Olympic basketball team, while a sit-down with People magazine gave him the chance to compare himself and Michelle to Beyonce and Jay Z.
Obama advisers are calling this the president’s “soft media campaign.” Actually, it only confirms what we’ve been watching these past four years: the emergence of a new kind of president, the Celebrity in Chief, who’s more comfortable with Glamour magazine and Entertainment Tonight, where he also did an interview in August, than with the White House press corps (Obama has held exactly one formal press conference in all of 2012).
It’s a president who prefers the golf course to the Oval Office, and hanging with fellow performers from Hollywood to meeting pesky officials from the CIA or Pentagon or even members of his own Cabinet (he finally saw them in July after a lapse of six months).
It’s a president who passes up meetings with world leaders at the United Nations to appear on "The View," and regularly skips face-to-face intelligence briefings while making sure he gets face time with David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, and Miami DJ “Pimp with a Limp.”
And those are the voters Obama’s courting this election season: the other 47 percent who can name Kim Kardashian’s ex before they can name the author of the Declaration of Independence, who really miss "The Hills," and think Libya would make a cute name for a baby girl.
So how confusing to them and the Celebrity in Chief to be quizzing Obama about the budget deficit or Fast and Furious (like those nasty interviewers from Univision who turned him into the Pinata in Chief on that one). For the next debate, they need Joan Rivers to pose the questions Obama is really prepared to answer, and the nation really wants to know:
“What are you wearing? And who designed the watch?”
“Some people say rapper Stalley’s debut Lincoln Way Nights is the missing link between OutKast and Miami Bass. What do you think?”
“What color drapes should the Romneys choose when they move into the White House next January?”
Historian Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institutein Washington, D.C. He is author of seven books, including New York Times bestseller "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" (2001); the Pulitzer Prize Finalist "Gandhi and Churchill"(2008); "To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World" (nominated for the UK's Mountbatten Prize); and the highly acclaimed "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II," which The Economist magazine picked as one of the Best Books of 2012. His most recent work is "The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization" (Random House 2013). Follow him on Twitter@ArthurLHerman.