Cue the fist bump. Prepare the post-Camelot pearls and sleeveless dress. Michelle Obama is ready for her close-up.
The wife of the Democratic presidential candidate will be a guest host on “The View” on Wednesday, a chore her GOP counterpart, Cindy McCain, tackled in April.
Obama, who’s bound to address the recent buzz that she’s become a Republican target, is a natural for television. Her on-air style has a relaxed confidence. Her candor keeps things interesting. It’s easy to imagine her having her own syndicated daytime program or anchoring the fourth hour of “Today.”
But that’s a basic requirement for any future White House resident, isn’t it? Obama’s stint on “The View” is another example of how blurred the boundaries have become between entertainment and politics in current presidential campaigning.
Under the old rules, candidates had to be willing to sit down with the likes of Leno or Letterman in order to seem like good sports and reach a wider audience. That basically meant being able to do 10 minutes of late-night banter without putting viewers to sleep.
The new rules are much more demanding. Now, in the quest to reach the Oval Office, candidates - and their spouses - must combine the skills of a Jon Stewart and a John F. Kennedy. Voters aren’t just looking for a leader. They also want someone who can double as Talk-Show-Host-In-Chief.
Consider the TV hoops that Democratic and Republican hopefuls are required to jump through:
They have to do “Saturday Night Live.” In 2000 and 2004, the “SNL” debate parodies helped decide the winner of the likability race. (Ask George W. Bush how grateful he is for those stuffy, snobbish impersonations of Gore and Kerry.)
In 2008, candidates get more attention for playing themselves on the show. Barack Obama had a cameo during a Halloween skit last fall; Hillary Clinton made a brief appearance in March. And in May, John McCain, who hosted back in 2002, did both “Weekend Update” and a faux political ad in which he boasted, “I have the courage, the wisdom, the experience, and most importantly, the oldness necessary.”
They have to bring more than talk to talk shows. At one time, it was rare for a politician to agree to a moment like Richard Nixon’s “Sock it to me?” on “Laugh-In” or Bill Clinton’s saxophone turn on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Now it’s routine.
Obama danced on Ellen DeGeneres’ show in October and helped “hope up” common phrases on “The Daily Show” in April by repeating in his stump style, “I’m calling to find out if you’re happy with your cell phone service.”
In April, McCain walked onstage to interrupt David Letterman as the CBS host was letting loose with a string of old-man McCain jokes. Taking over the monologue, McCain fired back at Letterman, “You look like the guy who the neighbors later say, ‘He mostly kept to himself.’...You look like the night manager of a creepy motel.”
They have to promote network and cable programming. In April, Obama, McCain and Clinton each filmed segments for the “American Idol” fund-raiser, “Idol Gives Back,” only to suffer the indignity of being bumped from a 2 ½-hour telecast that made ample time for Miley Cyrus. The candidates’ spots were aired a day later on the regular “Idol” results episode.
This month, Obama and McCain taped promos saluting military families to tout the return of “Army Wives,” the Lifetime channel’s highest-rated drama. Can dueling “Celebrity Circus” commercials be far behind? That probably depends on how they’re doing with the trapeze-artist vote.
They have to be the star of videos. Obama hasn’t worried about making viral videos because he inspires so many of them. McCain tried a bit of video comedy (he played straight man to his 96-year-old mom in a Mother’s Day-themed ad) without setting the Web on fire. Surprisingly, the person with the most inventive video content was Hillary Clinton, who costarred with her husband in a re-creation of the last scene of “The Sopranos.” Some might argue Bill Clinton’s attempts at campaigning for Hillary were the real joke, but that’s another matter.
Why do politicians devote so much effort to being entertaining? Because an inattentive public and an easily bored media get tired of the same old stories, even the substantial ones.
Coverage of the Iraq war is down, but it’s up for the fact that Barack and Michelle Obama affectionately touched fists last week on camera. If the presumed nominees are trying to use pop culture to get their messages out, who can blame them?
Besides, there’s still a place for the Mitt Romneys and Joe Bidens of the world, former contenders who aren’t quite as adept at filling airtime with charming anecdotes or getting the timing right on a punch line.
It’s called the vice presidency.