The President made his ground-breaking appearance on last night’s Tonight Show — the first sitting President ever to grace this particular gig.
He looked great; he sounded great; he was thoughtful; he was clever; he was convincing; and, with the exception of one cringemaking offhand remark that was, at least, delivered sotto voce, he demonstrated, yet again, that he was made for the camera. It was pretty much a perfectly pitched performance in which he made his points while rolling with the flow.
But the question was never about the performance. The question was always about the venue.
In the midst of a cratering economy, was it appropriate for POTUS to choose this particular forum? For the matter of that, would it have been appropriate even if things were going great? Does the dignity of the office comport with the site specs of a late night comedy variety show?
If majesté does it, can it still be considered lèse majesté?
I realize that I approach this question as not only a geezer, but a codger. Besides, I am a Nixonian and therefore steeped in the DeGaullian notion of the vital element of mystique in leadership — as expressed in one of RN’s favorite books, The Edge of the Sword.
But in the world of 2009 dignity has long since been redefined. Downward as I see it. But things change and stuff happens and if you don’t wake up each day and smell the roses currently on offer, before very long you’re bound to find yourself out of touch with reality.
Then was then and now is now and different strokes for different POTUS. I’m sure there were geezders (combination geezers/codgers) who were convinced that FDR’s use of the newfangled radio for his Fireside Chats represented the end of Civilization As We Know It.
One thing RN understood was the power of television. And, although I think he would have regretted his successor’s strategy he would have admired his tactical aplomb. The Tonight Show is unquestionably a more effective way of reaching and convincing —and reassuring— a wider popular audience than dozens of major speeches or scores of Sunday morning thumbsuckers.
Whether or not you think that President Obama should have done it, there’s no denying that he did it very well. So at least he set the highest possible standard for co-opting an undignified setting without losing his own personal dignity.
Here’s the whole 25 minute segment: