Comedian, self-proclaimed pundit, and President Barack Obama supporter Bill Maher launched into President Obama on his HBO show "Real Time" on Friday, echoing comments he'd made in a LA Times op-ed piece published that same day. Maher's five-minute "New Rules" rant accused President Obama of focusing too much on his television appearances, noting, "It's getting to where you can't turn on your TV without seeing Obama."
On some level, this isn't surprising; Maher's schtick is rooted in politics so, even as an Obama supporter, he has to take swipes at the president from time to time to avoid the appearance of having become a fanboy. Still, this particular line of argument seems odd.
"You've got us already. We like you, we really like you!" Maher proclaimed while calling for Obama to take a break from the small screen. But what's the problem with President Obama being on TV a lot? And is there any evidence that he wants to be on TV more than any other president who has occupied the Oval Office for the last, oh, 40+ years?
Sure, it's unnecessary to hear about his daughters' private school lunch menus on CNN, but that's not really Obama's fault. The American media will cover him (and any other President) regardless, so it's only logical to try to use TV to his advantage? After all, that's just what he's done all along. Remember, Obama danced on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and now he's appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and opened the White House to NBC's Brian Williams.
This is just Obama's way of shaping his public image, and overall it seems genuine, not forced or overbearing, no matter what Maher may say. Obama has excelled at appealing to the public through comfortable, accessible mediums -- be they TV, his own website, Facebook, or Twitter. Arguably, he may even know more about creating a likable public image than Maher does, given the rocky relationship between Maher's political pronouncements and the public's perception of him.
All this may just be Obama's version of George W. Bush's have-a-beer-with-me routine, as Maher seems to acknowledge: "I never thought I'd say this, but what he needs in his personality is a little George Bush," Maher said. How so? By making bad decisions? By being photographed in Wranglers and a cowboy hat? John McCain tried to position Obama as an over-hyped celebrity, but Americans chose to elect Obama regardless. That line of argument didn't get McCain very far, and it's unlikely Maher will get much more traction with it, because the simple truth is that Americans like it when their presidents know how to look good on on TV.