Part of being president is answering questions. Sometimes tough ones, sometimes softballs. But never before has it meant sitting around a semicircle of couches on a midmorning talk show. Nor has it meant devoting a full hour interview to a studio audience. So was appearing on The View a good strategy to soften President Obama's image? The White House communications team thought so. Others (View alum Rosie O'Donnell, for one) thought it lowered the presidency to appear in a quotidian context. Count on Barbara Walters to cut to the chase: “Do you really think being on a show with five women who never shut up is going to be calming?”
Obama had a predictably charming answer for the panel of gabbers—“I wanted to pick a show that Michelle actually watches”—as he did for most of the questioning from the coterie of hosts. Which was no doubt the point. As the White House has tried over the past several months to combat the Tea Party caricature of a runaway liberal ideologue, daytime TV didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Crack some jokes and pander to a friendly audience, all while claiming that he was just getting outside the Beltway to talk to the American people.
To that end, Obama certainly wooed the ladies and the audience at home. He talked lots about his daughters, one of whom is at summer camp, and both of whom will (fun fact) soon go from needing a babysitter to doing the babysitting for other people. He poked fun at his gray hair and indulged the ladies in a game he plays with his family at the end of every day, called “Rose and Thorn," to pick a high and low point. He also broke news of what’s on his iPod (which, culture trailblazer that he is, he called a “pod”), including everything from Jay-Z to Frank Sinatra. And in a pop-culture twist, Obama admitted he knew Lindsay Lohan was in jail but had no idea who Snooki was.
That said, it wasn’t all fluff. Obama delved into policy, dropping some statistics about job losses to make the case that the economy is actually in a better place than it could have been had he done nothing when taking office. The chit-chatty panel was mostly too busy swooning to really challenge him on policy talk. There was speculation that token conservative and Sarah Palin pal Elisabeth Hasselbeck would lob Obama the most pointed queries. And she did at one point. How, she asked, can you claim that your administration has saved jobs—what does that even mean? Obama’s plain answer—“Well, it matters if your job was one that was saved”—filled the studio with applause. Walters later asked a surprisingly frank question about Afghanistan—“Why don’t we get out?”—and Sherri Shepherd piled on with a tough question about the Shirley Sherrod episode and what it says about race in America.
By the end, the audience was on its feet, and even Hasselbeck was smiling. Which begs the question, Was doing the show a net gain for the White House? Who knows how demographic polling will react. But it’s hard to see how Obama lost any ground by appearing with Walters and the crew. Sure, he’ll get hammered by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity tonight. But if not The View, they probably would have found something else to ding him on anyway.