Spin Cycle

04.29.12

Pouncing on Presidential Coolness

How the right is trying to neutralize Obama's hipness

The right has come up with a new line of attack against Barack Obama: He’s too cool.

You read that right.

Suddenly, it was an act of unpresidential affrontery for Obama to go on Jimmy Fallon’s show. Never mind that presidents and presidential candidates have been doing the late-night thing for two decades, back to Bubba’s sax-playing moment with Arsenio. Never mind that Mitt Romney recited a silly Top Ten list on Letterman and pretended to be reading Kim Kardashian’s tweets. Never mind that George W. Bush went on Oprah. Obama was a bad boy.

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“I thought it was really bad, that we had so many issues and problems going on in this country, around the world, and you can't swing a cat without finding President Obama on a comedy show,” said Fox contributor Dana Perino, Bush’s last White House press secretary.

And there was grumbling about Obama’s comedy stylings at Saturday’s White House Correspondents Dinner. He was too sharp in going after Romney, he shouldn’t have joked about eating dog meat, and so on. (Uh—I can remember when Bush poked fun at not finding those weapons of mass destruction.)

So is hipness now a political liability?

Clearly this is a concerted effort to turn the president’s charm and wit against him. The Republicans are saddled with a somewhat awkward candidate. It’s hard to imagine Mitt slow-jamming the news on Fallon’s show. No wonder Obama deadpanned at the dinner that Romney “asked if he could get some equal time on The Merv Griffin Show.” Romney isn’t even sure whether to accept an invitation from SNL.

All this is reminiscent of a controversial ad that John McCain ran against Obama in 2008, dubbing him the world’s biggest celebrity and likening him to Paris Hilton. (Today I guess it would be Kim Kardashian or Lindsay Lohan, both of whom were at the correspondents’ dinner.) The Republican National Committee has posted a web ad cutting between clips of Obama riffing with Fallon and Romney giving a serious speech, with the tag line #notfunny.

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Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP Photo

There’s a larger problem here for the Romney camp. Obama, whether you think he’s cool or condescening, is widely seen by the public as a likable guy. Mitt is widely seen as a stiff. That is not going to change. So in a classic case of political ju-jitsu, the conservatives are trying to turn the president’s strength into a liability: Yeah yeah, he’s hip, he’s happening, but what has he really accomplished? Wouldn’t you rather go with the boring businessman who might fix the ailing economy?

  I’m not sure that works. But it may be the best card his team has to play if Romney wants to be performing at next year’s White House Correspondents Dinner.