Sunday night Fox debuted a ten-part documentary series, Cosmos, featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, inspired by and updating the Carl Sagan series.
It’s pretty impressive, using computer-generated imagery to dramatize the stars, nebulas, and rogue planets of deep space. But it began with this:
This morning, comedic actor Zach Galifianakis interviewed President Obama.
Obama has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman, slow-jammed the news on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, taped a question-and-answer promoting Conan O’Brien’s transition to The Tonight Show, taped a promotion for George Lopez, taped a video for The Colbert Report, taped a prime-time special with Oprah, grilled with Food Network star Bobby Flay, popped up in commercials during Thanksgiving football, and filled out his NCAA basketball tournament picks on ESPN every year, and of course, American Idol. (More than once.) He appeared on The View in fall 2012, and made his second appearance as president on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show that fall as well.
Getting the president to pop up in every conceivable entertainment context is a deliberate strategy by this White House. It is an awful development, and the next president has to at least try to put this genie back in the bottle. Even the New York Times noticed:
There appears to be no place that Mr. Obama is unwilling to go in his search for young people, which the image makers of his predecessors have noticed.
“We have to worry about the dignity of the presidency,” said Mike McCurry, who served as Mr. Clinton’s press secretary in the 1990s. “There’s a limit to how much you can do.” Still, he said, “the shifts in the popular culture and the way people are entertained and get information almost mandate new strategies.”
Nicolle Wallace, who was Mr. Bush’s communications director, said she suspects there are some lines that even Mr. Pfeiffer and his current team will not cross.
“You can’t put a president on ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’” she said, perhaps hopefully.
The presidency of the United States is not meant to be an all-encompassing, ubiquitous role in the national culture. It is a job, with a four-year contract and an option for another four. And there is no shortage of real work in that job, beyond sitting on the talk-show couches and taping introductions to documentary series. And a lot of big problems remain unresolved.
According to the latest jobs figures, 10.5 million Americans are officially categorized as unemployed, with 3.8 million considered long-term unemployed, 7.2 million Americans working part-time involuntarily, 2.3 million “marginally attached to the labor force,” and 755,000 “discouraged workers,” so there’s still plenty of work to be done on the economic front. Wages have been flat for a decade. Household debt has declined some since the Great Recession, but it’s still considerable, particularly a boom in student-loan debt. Despite the highest level of tax revenue in American history, last year’s deficit was “only” $680 billion, and the national debt is $17.4 trillion and counting. Math, science, and reading test scores for American children remain mediocre, with no signs of improvement over the past decade.
Then, of course, there’s the Affordable Care Act, where most of the previously uninsured are finding the options are not affordable at all, and perhaps 10 percent of the uninsured have selected and purchased a plan, as of February 13.
With Russia on the move in Ukraine, Venezuela exploding, Syria disintegrating, violence and refugees spreading to Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, the Taliban threatening the elections in Afghanistan, and China and Japan continuing to rattle their sabers over small, uninhabited islands, there’s no shortage of work to be done in foreign policy, either.
Never mind. The president’s bracket selection will go on, no matter what else is going on in the world.