Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: Comedian in chief

The country may not be in a cheery mood given the current recession, but it appears that President Barack Obama is going to try to get Americans to lighten up a bit. On Thursday, Obama will be a guest on ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,’ marking the first time that a sitting president has taken part in a late-night talk show.

During the presidential campaign, one of Arizona Senator John McCain’s most effective attacks against Obama was the charge that Obama was more of a celebrity than he was presidential material. Obama’s critics are likely to argue that a comedy show is not an appropriate venue for the commander in chief to be appearing, especially during an economic crisis.

‘ In actuality, late-night television might be the perfect outlet for Obama. Not everyone watches the cable news programs that show the White House press conferences, and appearing on a show that doesn’t revolve around news or politics will make Obama a lot more accessible to the average American. Young adults, arguably Obama’s more prominent supporters, may not find Jay Leno as relevant as Jon Stewart, but it’s a start.

By trying to communicate more directly with the American people, Obama is reversing the trend of the presidency becoming increasingly disconnected from the mainstream culture. Although it is important for Obama to work hard in Washington on the problems facing the country, it is also vital for Obama stay in touch with Americans.

This wouldn’t be the first time a president has turned to new methods of communication when the economy was in trouble. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt revolutionized the public’s relationship with the presidency in 1933 by entering the homes of Americans through his ‘fireside chats,’ during which Roosevelt explained over the radio what he was doing to bring the nation out of the Great Depression.’ Since then, every president has delivered some sort of regular address to the American people.

Being the first sitting president to appear on a late-night talk show may not be quite as revolutionary, but it will allow Obama and future presidents who choose to follow his example a chance to show a different side of themselves. However, it would be inappropriate for Obama to joke about the economy when Americans are struggling financially, and the unemployment rate at 8.1 percent, its highest level since 1983. Obama should use this opportunity to leave the comedy to Leno and be straightforward about how steep the road to economic recovery really is, while giving Americans a much-needed confidence boost before the panic escalates even further. By boldly going where no president has gone before, Obama has the chance to introduce a far more effective way for presidents to talk to ordinary Americans.

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