He may be the commander in chief and leader of the free world, but that doesn’t mean President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaStephen Sondheim, legendary Broadway songwriter, dies at 91 With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE hasn’t had his share of un-presidential moments.
This week, for instance, when Obama arrived to meet with leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Beijing, he was chomping on gum.
Though the president was chewing Nicorette, not Bubble Yum, the every-man moment caused some uproar among conservatives about whether Obama had exhibited bad manners.
On social media sites in China, Obama’s appearance caused an uproar, with some using racial stereotypes to characterize the president as a careless “rapper.”
“We made this meeting so luxurious, with singing and dancing, but see Obama, stepping out of his car chewing gum like an idler,” Yin Hong, a professor of journalism at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, wrote on the Sina Weibo micro-blog service, according to USA Today.
The incident was similar to other off-color moments where Obama has been slapped for boorish behavior. In September, the president caused a brouhaha of sorts when he saluted two Marines standing guard — while holding a cup of coffee. (“Wait - did President Obama just salute the Marines with a LATTE in his hand?!” the National Republican Congressional Committee wrote on Twitter at the time.)
Earlier in the year he got ripped by critics for wearing denim in the Oval Office during a Saturday phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And who can forget the moment last year when Obama took a selfie during a memorial service for anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela?
Political observers say the ill-advised moments belittle his stature as president.
“He’s lucky that more people don’t accuse him of denigrating the office,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communications at Boston University who specializes in political communications, adding that Obama “fancies himself president but also a pop star and the pop star bit gets him into trouble.”
Berkovitz said he believes critics have piled on more than ever in recent months because of Obama’s low approval ratings and unpopular standing with the U.S. public.
“He’s down right now and it’s easy to pile on,” he said. “It’s endemic of the way things are going for this guy.”
And while Berkovitz said the episodes haven’t really hurt the president — at least in the immediate setting — “it makes it harder for him to rise up, whether it’s in the polls or in his global stature.”
“It reinforces that he’s down and out as a political leader,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the guy isn’t going to come back.”
To be sure, all presidents have their more real moments, some of them similar to Obama’s.
Former President George W. Bush, for example, gave a half-hearted salute once during his presidency while holding his dog, Barney. He also made headlines for giving German Chancellor Angela Merkel an awkward backrub.
Journalists who cover the White House say such events only humanize the office to the broader public.
“There is no way any human could live up to the inflated state of dignity inherent in the presidency,” said Julie Mason, the Sirius XM radio host who covered the Bush White House for the Houston Chronicle. “In this way, they are all ridiculous at some point, just by being normal.”
Obama’s gum-chomping habit began several years back after he quit smoking. Earlier this year, the president’s official physical exam revealed he was “tobacco free” and in “excellent” health. But it noted that Obama did occasionally chew nicotine gum.
And as countless pool reports and sightings have revealed, he doesn’t just chew gum in private — he has been known to hit the campaign trail, tour factories and, yes, greet other foreign dignitaries while chomping away.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor of political science at Towson University who has chronicled the White House during several administrations, surmised that, “as far as a behavior model is concerned, it is better for the public to see the president chewing Nicorette gum than smoking a cigarette.”
But that hasn’t stopped critics from unleashing on Obama’s habit. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer ripped the president on Fox News, saying “it is a sign of disrespect.”
At the same time, White House allies say all the fuss just plays to the conservative base.
“It’s ridiculous and I don’t think people pay the slightest bit of attention to it, except the Obama haters,” said Bob Shrum, a Democratic consultant.
Justin Sink contributed.