When you consider the airtime on C-SPAN, almost five hours, and the intense online coverage, you really have to wonder about the level of intelligent discourse in this country. The other night, inside the cavernous Hilton Hotel ballroom in Washington DC, hundreds of political and celebrity luminaries, including the President himself, gathered for the annual self-congratulatory, headline-grabbing, publicity-hound mongering event that only serves to puff up the hard work of publicists and staffs, running around carrying clipboards and rushing their clients in front of cameras. Is that a CNN camera? No, it’s actually Extra and Entertainment Tonight.
At a time when our most “serious” institutions of government are at an all-time public low in opinion polls, I suppose the best thing to do is…allow yourself to sit with Mila Kunis. Wolf Blitzer of CNN did. She took the bait. So did Claire Danes. She got to break bread with venerable CBS newsman Bob Schieffer. Poor Bob didn’t have to do all this dog-and-pony posturing back when he was starting off as an ace reporter from Texas. And look across there –it’s the Fox news table (you buy “tables” here and they load it up with Tanqueray and wine bottles) with Greta Van Susteren.
She attemped to explain, why, among other A-listers like George Clooney, Charlize Theron and Viola Davis, she invited three special ladies: ex-felon Lindsay Lohan, dressed haltingly in poufy black (along with her attorney), and the mother-daughter pair of Kim Khardashian, in velvet, and her Amazon-like “momager”, Kris Jenner. Susteren has been especially criticized for bring Lohan, though she explained that “we” (as in Americans) like to support underdogs.
Kim and Mama Kris, well, they just go where the cameras and cash go. Last night, while C-SPAN spent much of its coverage, with a silent camera zooming in and out of the entrance hall where the phalanx of cameras was stationed, just taping all the various people that were arriving. Kris sprinted to one camera, like the pro she is, and declared that every TV in their house is tuned to Fox News and that she and Bruce Jenner are “complete Republicans”. Kim affirmed that she is not. I guess no one is really surprised by this bit of information. And that’s the point. We raise the celebrity of these people and yet we don’t lament how stupid we’ve become to obsess over these kinds of events. And meanwhile, we have….an election going on now and an economy that is still struggling.
No wonder comedian Jimmy Kimmel, the evening’s performer besides the President, could extract big laughs (and groans) when he made fun of Kim in his monologue. Alluding to the fact that last year, while this event was happening, special forces were hunting down and killing Osama Bin-Laden, Kimmel joked that these same forces were now outside Kim’s home, trying to take down the “most dangerous criminal” there is. Guffaws from the audience and faux laughs from the Khardashians; Greta’s husband John Coales didn’t look too happy. Earlier in the monologue, Kimmel tried to make a joke about the recent kerfuffle involving Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen by first suggesting that Kim and Lindsay didn’t know a thing about this.
Laugh, laugh, laugh. This is very uncomfortable stuff. I mean, OK, these are sleazy and easy targets. I get it. Kimmel can knock off some jokes at everyone, Republican and Democrat, sometimes harsher than others. Rather than provide a scorecard on what was the hit or miss, as all the sites are doing this morning, I’d like to focus on the main —OK the most important person in the room himself: the President. He is supposed to preside over this once-august event. It’s his chance to make a little spectacle of himself, carry out some bonhomie, hand out award to the same press corps that badgers his press secretary every morning. This is the hip President, remember.
We’d rather you had a chance to take this all in for yourselves. This is the same guy who was pilloried this past week by left and right over his appearance on the “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” show, especially during the regular “Slow Jamming the News” segment. They all took aim (Mitt, check; Rick, check; Fox News and Gretchen Carlson, check; hey, even Jon Stewart!). I am inclined to agree. It’s not just that the segment wasn’t all that good –it wasn’t. It’s not that it was a dumb idea for NBC to greenlight this or for the hipster wonks at the White House thought this would humanize the President. Nope –none of this.
I just don’t like the impression that the President has been giving, in recent months, that he is somehow beyond worrying his re-election chances and the overall state of the economy. This is the same person who is perceived as being aloof and unaffected —the pushover Democrat that Kimmel himself alluded to in his monologue. Obama does not seem into this —not the treacly commitment that you never failed to hear from Clinton, but certainly not the haughty brush offs when the Bush pere-et-fils were in power.
There’s just something a little unsettling about someone who is valiantly trying to be cool, and to some extent he succeeds. His timing is a bit off and I defy most people to not cringe or wince as they hear some of what the President is saying –and why he seems to say it.
Something is rotten when we invite Kris Jenner and Ted Koppel, Lindsay Lohan and Senator Patrick Leahy to an event where they may actually meet and struggle to ask each other questions of any substance. Something smells bad when these same people who disregard the harsh reality just outside the doors of the Hilton there on Connecticut Avenue, and tuck in to be entertained awkwardly by a President who has been force-fed canned lines and who mugs for the camera, laughs painfully at his own jokes, and seems utterly in tune with this fakery.
Better get a last look at grinning Barack, because he’s going to suddenly be told to get ugly by his same handlers pretty soon.