The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 5, 2012

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Hey, Obama, this isn't 'American Idol'

By Marta Mossburg
Globe Columnist

— Sometime in the past two months, Barack Obama forgot he was president and started campaigning for entertainer in chief.

Since September, he has visited comedians Jay Leno and David Letterman, talked with Jon Stewart of Comedy Central and Sway Calloway of MTV, and wedged himself on the couch between his wife Michelle and the women of “The View.” He also sat down for an easygoing exchange with new “Today” host Savannah Guthrie.

In addition, his campaign released this month an ad featuring Lena Dunham, creator of the hit HBO series “Girls,” comparing losing one’s virginity to voting for Barack Obama.

Dunham declares, “Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy … somebody who really cares about and understands women. A guy who cares about whether you get health insurance, specifically whether you get birth control. The consequences are huge.”

The consequences of this election are huge, so huge, in fact, that the president only wants to discuss them on shows whose recent hot topics include “Chevy Chase’s use of the N-Word!” and “Is PMS a Myth?” and via a spokeswoman who is probably as well known naked as clothed. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has avoided late night and daytime talk shows for months.

Why? In the October issue of Vanity Fair one of the smartest men ever to be president, according to many of the elite media, told interviewer Michael Lewis that he only wears blue or gray suits because he doesn’t want to be debilitated by too many choices.

Maybe he doesn’t want the American public to suffer the same problem.

What other explanation could there be for the one-sided, lowbrow lineup? He thinks a lot of people are dumb, for one. Specifically, he thinks those who haven’t made up their minds about the candidates — allegedly about 3 to 5 percent of voters in this election — are missing a few tools in the toolshed.

 As Michelle Cottle wrote in The Daily Beast in September, “Ask the political scientists, pollsters and other professional analyzers of the electorate who parse these sorts of things. They will tell you … that undecideds or swing voters or whatever you want to call them tend to be low-information folks who cast their ballots based on whichever candidate gives them the last-minute warm and fuzzies.”

Where does he think he can reach the “low-information” crowd — aka those who haven’t gone to college and apparently don’t like to do their homework on candidates: talk shows.

Given how tight polls show the election to be, winning over that group of people may be key to another Obama victory. But at what cost to him and to the nation?

Isn’t it the job of the president to help sort out for Americans what is important and what is trifling? When the president only talks to comedians and weighs in on a fight between “American Idol” judges, as Mr. Obama did recently, doesn’t it cheapen the office and suggest national affairs rank below entertainment?

So-called decision fatigue, which Obama addressed in regard to suit colors, is real. Too many choices in a given day make it harder to make good judgments on big questions, which is why it is so important to focus time and energy on things that matter.

If President Obama’s interviewers on late night and daytime talk had used the opportunity to push him on issues and followed up on questions he chose not to answer, those time slots wouldn’t have been so damning. But they didn’t, and he obliged.

As liberal TV critic David Zurawik wrote of the Leno interview, “North Korean TV might want to study this tape as a less heavy-handed way of convincing the populace of the glory of the leader.”

America suffers from crippling debt, a stagnating economy and an entitlement crisis, not a lack of late night jokes. If we are to start tackling those issues, it will not happen by pandering to our baser instincts.

Marta H. Mossburg writes about national affairs and politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her work at Write her at