Our bitter, aggravated politics has many fathers, from gerrymandering to genuine, deep and abiding differences of opinion about how to move the country forward. But here’s another problem with our politics I’ve noticed lately: We can’t escape it.
I don’t mean the 24-7 frequency of our news media — in the age of Twitter, it’s really 60-60-24-7 — although that bears part of the blame. Rather, I’m talking about the increasing tendency of our politicians, especially our presidents and those who would be president, to pop up everywhere else, too: on Oprah and The View, on Leno and Letterman, during SportsCenter and the Super Bowl and the Final Four.
A friend’s mother calls this “inmaface.” As in, you can do things with which I disagree, just don’t do them “inmaface.” When it’s harder and harder to enjoy the apolitical without the intrusion of the politicos, they’re inmaface.
I think political handlers think this is a way to soften their man’s (or woman’s) image, to make him seem more human, to lessen the polarization toward him. And maybe there’s something to it: Barack Obama, who has taken the omnitopical, borderline-celebrity presidency to a new level, remains more well-liked than his approval ratings would suggest.
Maybe that’s because he complains about the vagaries of the Bowl Championship Series and fills out March Madness brackets — hey, just like me! I wonder, though, if there won’t be diminishing returns to flooding the airwaves this way.
When I watched Obama talk about his daughters and basketball during halftime of the men’s college title game Monday, I was struck again that, for all my and other conservatives’ complaints about his policies, Obama seems like a genuinely good father and family man.
But when he picked his Final Four? Heck, I barely want to watch Dick Vitale pick the Final Four, much less a president with more important things to do and think about. I’d rather hear Obama talk about what he’d do to stop Washington’s red ink. Or, better yet, what he plans to tell Vladimir Putin once his “last election” is over and he has more “flexibility.”
Before the week was up, he was at it again, opining through his press secretary that the Augusta National Golf Club ought to begin admitting female members. And, lest you think my complaints are only about Obama: His Republican opponent from 2008, John McCain, and his presumptive opponent this fall, Mitt Romney, made sure to air the same belief.
Personally, I couldn’t care less what Augusta National does — and have a hard time believing that it says anything meaningful about equality for a woman or two to join a private club for the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent. So why do Obama and McCain and Romney have to chime in?
In their defense, often it’s because they’re asked about these topics by my colleagues in the media. And maybe Romney, for instance, would have declined to answer about a private club’s choices if he felt confident it wouldn’t become the latest skirmish in the GOP’s alleged “war on women.” (Promisingly, he declined to prognosticate about March Madness.)
But then, the possibility a non-answer about women joining a country club would become political fodder speaks to our bitter polarization.
We’re electing a president, not a pundit-of-all-trades. The job is demanding and — just as important — it has limits. Maybe, just maybe, we’d have higher opinions of those who would hold that job if they kept their opinions within those limits.
– By Kyle Wingfield