All of this talk about how the political sphere is a stage has me thinking about just how cool Obama really is. This post will examine the Obama cool factor that journalists speak to so often. It will look into the PR that defined Obama’s personality during the course of both campaigns. Furthermore, it will look at the PR that has kept the president cool throughout his administration.
Alexander has emphasized just how important behavior during the campaign defines the outcome of the election. “Candidates work to present compelling performances of civil competence to citizen audiences […] It is the success of these performances that determines how whites, blacks, Jews, Catholics and women distribute their precious votes, and the opinions of these supposedly demographic groups shift significantly in response to coding, narrative, tone, metaphor, setting and performance in the course of campaign time.” (1) Alexander speaks to politicians being actors and playing different characters based on their audience. He uses Hillary Clinton as an example, dropping her G’s when talking to rural communities. Obama’s character during his campaign was one that carried him, some may argue, all the way across the finish line.
Obama’s cool character had to be revamped for the 2012 election. Politico reported that the Obama campaign “was hoping to rekindle the enthusiasm among young voters and was looking to revive the cool appeal.”(2) He was lucky enough to score an opponent who journalists claimed, didn’t have the cool factor at all. The Obama campaign defined Romney as an out of touch, rich, white male.
An article in “Investors Business Daily,” claims that Obama has an unfair media bias and walks with reporters on his side. “Reporters just normally cast a jaundicated eye at a political campaign’s PR strategy. Yet they are eagerly parroting the Obama campaign’s talking point about how “cool” the president is. (2)
Although we spoke in class about the fact that politicians don’t define their publicity, the Obama administration seems to have found their way around the system. Obama has branded himself, and the journalists are buying the Obama cool product. Some of the headlines around the 2012 election read: “President Obama: The Cool Factor,” “Obama: The New King of Cool,” “Barack Obama is cool. Mitt Romney is not. What does this mean for 2012?” and “The Obama-Romney Cool Gap.”(2)
During the campaign for the 2012 presidency, republicans had had enough, and “instead of just ignoring Obama cool, the Republicans [hung] a lantern on it, saying, in effect, we get it, and here’s why you should vote him out anyway.” (3) “American Crossroads,” a conservative super pac, released a video in April. The video was a 45 second montage of “cool Obama moments.” The music then stops, and young voter targeted statistics about the state of the economy appear on the screen.(3)
However, after emphasizing just how unimportant “the cool factor” was for a president, republicans fell into the trap of trying to make Romney seem like he has “the cool factor” as well. Jonathan Collegio of American Crossroads suggested during the campaign that cool needed to be redefined. “I think for a broad swath of America, what’s cool is having five great kids, making a fortune in the private sector, loving your wife, and having a great record as governor,” he says. “Maybe there’s a lot more substance there than style.”(3)
In the end, it is no secret that the variety of attempts to “out cool” Obama by the Republican Party never stuck. Obama was elected for a second term.
But how important it is for Obama to keep up his image, once his public opinion no longer has a direct effect on his fate? The public appreciated getting to know Obama through both of the campaigns, but is now slightly frustrated that he is still spending time and money selling himself to Americans as “a cool guy.”
Obama has been poked fun at and branded as “the talk show president.” He has made ten talk show appearances while in office, and his appearances have now outnumbered all other presidents’. Obama keeps appearing on these talk shows in order to boost his image and to promote his agenda to the public. However, ringing up as $180,000 an hour on Air Force One, taxpayers are angry that the expense is falling on them. However, White House aides said “The president uses late-night talk shows to reach an audience that doesn’t always get its news from traditional sources.”(4) Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says, “It’s an easy decision to make if you’re the president. Why would you want to sit down with a Washington reporter when you can do a TV interview that will emphasize his likability?”(4)
Overall, the president has utilized the fact that he comes off as a cool guy. He has branded himself, and the American people are buying. The republicans had little to no come back to cancel out Obama’s “cool factor” in either election. However, the performance that Alexander speaks to, may be wearing off on the public by the time a second term has rolled around. When there is something to buy, the American people are listening. But once it’s already been bought, the American people are a little “over” the performance. They are frustrated that his image is at their expense.
But would the people be happier if Obama had put his head down and simply done his job once the public opinion didn’t determine much for him anymore? Wouldn’t the people feel slighted if Obama actually admitted that it was all a performance, as soon as the people had given him what he wanted? I believe that the performance never really can end. You have to convince the people, not only through policy, but though personality and rhetoric that they made the right choice. You must always continue the performance. After all, because of the US party system, Obama’s cool factor reflect on the entire party, including the candidate running after him.
(1) Alexander, Jeffrey. The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
(2) “Cool To Be In Obama’s Crew.” Investor’s Business Daily 30 Apr. 2012: A16. Infotrac Newsstand. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.
(3) Feldmann, Linda. “Obama’s cool factor: what Romney can do to counter it.” Christian Science Monitor[Boston] 27 04 2012, n. pag. Web. 12 Sep. 2013. <http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1009912424?accountid=14244>.
(4) Boyer, Dave. “Late fees: Taxpayers foot the hefty bill for Obama’s talk-show tour.” Washington[Washington] 07 08 2013, n. pag. Web. 12 Sep. 2013. <file://localhost/Users/swolf/Desktop/Obama a costly talk-show fixture – Washington Times.html>.