Suddenly it seems President Obama is everywhere — again.
In the last week, the president has been making the rounds on the tube, including his seventh sit-down on CBS’s “60 Minutes” since taking office.
A day earlier, Obama didn’t just attend the Army-Navy game at FedEx Field, he stopped by the broadcast booth for an interview. And Tuesday television viewers in four swing-state cities saw him in their living rooms once again when he participated in a string of interviews with local affiliates.
To be sure, the president has been contending with particularly significant issues lately — including the end of the war in Iraq — that have caused a need to go to the media. And the strategy of a 24-7 Obama on the television has worked before for the White House.
Still, there are new risks in the most recent flurry of activity, given the president’s dismal poll numbers and the reality that voters have been hearing from him a lot over the past three years.
As Obama tries to sell the public on his side of the negotiations on taxes and spending, he risks overexposure and his audience tuning him out as background noise.
Democratic consultant Doug Schoen said Obama, who is perceived as much now as the “campaigner in chief,” is “making up for [a] perceived weakness of his record and accomplishments with widespread visibility.”
“[I] believe he should be less visible and focus more on substantive policies to fix our economy, get our fiscal house in order and improve the quality of life — specifically eschewing partisanship to find a compromise with Republicans to extend the payroll-tax cut and extend unemployment insurance benefits,” Schoen said.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said there’s no such thing as overexposure for politicians, “especially in an era with so many channels and websites to choose from.”
At the same time, he added, “there is a danger particularly in a period when President Obama’s approval ratings are not great.”
“It is one thing to be new or relatively unknown and get some air time, quite another to be disliked and appear too much,” he said. “My guess is the White House still thinks the former logic holds true.”
Obama’s television appearances of late might not be as frequent — or hyped — as the ones he made in 2009, when he participated in a sketch on the Colbert Report and a promo for Conan O’Brien, sat down with David Letterman and opened the West Wing doors to NBC for a behind-the-scenes “Inside the Obama White House” (a DVD that later sold for $19.99).
The regular appearances at that time caused even HBO’s Bill Maher to vent on his television show: “I don’t want my president to be a TV star. You don’t have to be on television every minute of the day — you’re the president, not a rerun of ‘Law & Order.’ TV stars are too worried about being popular and too concerned about being renewed.”
But the countless appearances didn’t seem to work against Obama at the time. A New York Times/CBS News poll taken in 2009 showed 58 percent thought the president was making the right amount of public appearances and speeches, while 35 percent said he was making too many public appearances and speeches to explain.
With Republican presidential candidates hogging much of the 24-hour news cycle (and even the late night shows) Obama might be reemerging on the tube to try to remain in the public consciousness, observers say.
“All of the attention is going to the GOP primary burlesque show, and it’s been like a reality show merged with a circus — but that’s where all the attention is,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “All these appearances are a way to keep him in that narrative loop.”
Thompson said Obama “has no choice” but to make regular appearances.
“Sometimes, when your administration isn’t going so well, sometimes less is more,” he said. “But I don’t think you can remain silent or people think you’ve got this in the bag.”
Although Democrats and Republicans both have pretty solid opinions of the president almost three years into his term, Obama is trying to appeal to those undecided voters by humanizing himself, observers say. “In the end, when you’re appearing on these programs, it all boils down to the people who are negotiating,” Thompson said. “That’s who all of these campaigns are for.”
When the president appeared in the broadcast booth at the Army-Navy game last weekend, for example, he didn’t just talk politics. Obama — who has been criticized for being impersonal at times — got personal.
The sports-fan-in-chief offered another glimpse into his life during his interview with ESPN last month.
“I play golf for two reasons,” the president offered. “One, it’s my only excuse to get outside, and two, I’m getting too old to play basketball. But when it comes to true love, basketball will always be first in my heart.”
In an interview with local affiliate WVEC, Obama talked about his visits to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center, calling them “the most sobering act of being president.”
The TV appearances might work after all. Democratic strategist Phil Singer said getting the president on the airwaves frequently is “smart strategy.”
“It makes total sense,” Singer said. “The president’s greatest asset, besides his wife, is himself. He is more popular than his agenda, so it makes perfect sense to let the country fall in love with the guy they saw in 2008 and 2009.”