It has been noted that American Idol finales can draw more votes than American Presidents, a bit of fuzzy math (American Idol voters can vote more than once, and when ballots for losing candidates are included, presidential elections have tens of millions more participants) that has a way of sounding true, given the general health of our democracy. Now comes word that President Obama is doing an interview with Idol host Ryan Seacrest for his nationally syndicated radio show, which will air at 7:15 tomorrow morning California time. Critics are accusing Obama, who has given interviews to a lot of outlets that sitting presidents have never before given interviews to, of further cheapening his office in his desperation to drum up votes and blunt the Republican wave. Friendly campaign strategist would say he’s just touching all the bases, the way you do in the closing stretch of a campaign, albeit in some novel ways.
Between those two assessments lies a more interesting question, which comes to us courtesy of Sasha Issenberg: If you’re the White House, and you think that the benefits of doing un-serious shows outweigh the risks of those shows being seen as unbefitting a president, then why save that tactic for the last minute? The Seacrest interview, after all, follows Obama’s appearances last week on The Daily Show and Piolin por la Manana, Univision’s morning zoo radio show – and taken together, they show a White House willing to break the normal rules of political communication and reach supporters right in their preferred forums, without the filter of the mainstream media. It’s a trick you’ve seen before. And though Obama obviously isn’t avoiding the national press the way Sarah Palin does, you could make the case that his recent unconventional outreach efforts borrow from the same playbook.
So, to return to our question: If it’s kosher for POTUS to do Seacrest, why wait until now? Why not go on the show after health care reform passes, to hammer home the way the legislation will let young people stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26? Why not submit to Stewart’s grilling following the signing of financial reform, when there’s a chance to sell the ways the new consumer protection agency will protect people from shady credit card schemes? In a year of what-ifs, maybe those should be added to the list.