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Are American Presidents Becoming A Little Too Involved In Pop Culture?

Submitted by on November 8, 2010 – 1:13 pm2 Comments

It’s no secret that Presidents of the United States of America use pop culture to connect to the general public.

They do it in a variety of ways, too. For instance, every year after the Super Bowl, the President invites the NFL champions to the White House for a photo-op and to receive congratulations on behalf of the entire country. The President typically throws out the first pitch at a baseball game once a year or so, as well. And it’s fairly standard these days for Presidents to host concerts honoring musical legends in Washington, D.C. These are just a few of the traditions used to bridge the gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to be serving.

But over the course of the last few years, we’ve seen the last few Presidents involved in pop culture more closely than ever before. Current President Barack Obama has used pop culture throughout the duration of his Presidential campaign and during his first two years in office like no President before him. He’s answered just as many questions about Snooki and the Jersey Shore cast as he has about foreign policy and the economy (okay, that may be a stretch…but you know what we mean). Recently, he did his now-annual interview with Rolling Stone and revealed his musical tastes (Jay-Z and “a little Lil Wayne“) and answered questions about pop culture. He’s even reportedly interested in bringing Jay-Z into his inner circle when it comes time to make another run at the Oval Office. Aside from transforming himself into a pop culture icon the last few years, he’s also obviously used pop culture to his advantage.

But he’s not alone. Prior to Lil Wayne’s release from prison late last week, former President Bill Clinton appeared on a radio show to talk—not about the state of the country or his thoughts on Obama—but about Weezy’s release from jail and what he thought it meant to the world. Likewise, former President George W. Bush, who is currently promoting his book, Decision Points, has been just as wrapped up in pop culture recently. He did an interview with Matt Lauer last week in which he lambasted Kanye West for the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” comments he made on national TV back in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. He even  went as far as to say that that was the worst moment of his entire eight-year Presidency.

The truth is, hate it or love it, pop culture is one of the driving forces in America right now. Most kids probably can’t name you the three branches of government—but they can name all seven members of Jersey Shore (plus the new girl) joining the cast next season. They can’t hold a conversation about the state of the economy, but they could tell you everything that happened on Dancing With The Stars last week. It’s only natural Presidents use these talking points in order to relate to the rest of the country.

But, is that really the right move for our country? What does it say to the rest of the world when President Bush is more concerned about what a rapper says about him than what the world thinks about his handling of 9/11? What does it say when President Clinton is more concerned with a rapper getting released from prison than the terrorist plots taking place overseas? What does it say when we know everything in President Obama’s iPod but couldn’t tell you a thing about his revised health-care plan?

It says Presidents are getting a little too involved in pop culture right now. It says they’ve allowed the American people to dictate what’s important and what they should be talking about. And it says maybe we, as a people, are focusing on the wrong things.

Listen, Presidents should be able to relate to the rest of the country. They should know the score of the big game on Sunday afternoon. They should know the musicians who are influencing kids across the country. They should know what TV shows are popular and what movie everyone is looking forward to seeing. They are people just like you and me and people use pop culture as a distraction from the troubles of the everyday world.

But that shouldn’t be all that they talk about. And that shouldn’t be all we’re interested in when we hear them speak. As important as presidents are to pop culture, presidents should not be as involved in pop culture as they are. It might not be the popular choice but, ultimately, do presidential opinions on pop culture really matter?

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