In 2008, Barack Obama was a larger-than-life political celebrity. This year, he wants to be just one of the guys
Four years ago, Barack Obama's presidential campaign "focused on his transformation from a regular guy with an extraordinary life story into an inspirational avatar of hope and change," says Glenn Thrush at Politico. This election, the process "seems to be moving in reverse, with Obama shrinking back to regular-guy size." Part of this is to counter the image-distorting effects of three-and-a-half years in the White House, and partly it's to draw a sharp contrast with GOP rival Mitt Romney. Here, four ways Obama is trying to prove his Average Joe bona fides.
1. Reminding voters about his modest beginnings
Obama's never been "one to cling to religion, guns, or bowling balls," says Politico's Thrush, so to play up his normality he's "talking a lot more about his relatively humble upbringing as a middle-class kid in Hawaii and his pre-Senate years as a Chicago dad who would, from time to time, be asked to bring home a gallon of milk." The "unmistakable" but unspoken subtext of Obama noting that he "wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth" is reminding voters that Romney was, says Tim Alberta at National Journal. Explicitly attacking Romney's wealth is terrible politics, but Obama makes the same implicit "he's not like me, he's not like you" point by simply talking about his own lifetime of economic struggles.
2. Talking about his student-loan debt
Obama is highlighting a topic that's "sure to win points with the regular guy," says Fawn Johnson at National Journal: "He is complaining about the cost of college." This is ostensibly part of his push to get Congress to keep interest rates low on student loans, but he throws in that he and wife Michelle feel students' pain: "For the first eight years of our marriage, we were paying more in student loans than what we were paying for our mortgage." The specific target may be young voters, says Kathleen Hennessey at the Los Angeles Times, but talking about struggles with debt will also help Obama "connect with the middle-class voters his re-election may depend on."
3. Dropping in at dive bars
Earlier this week, Obama made an unannounced stop while visiting the University of Colorado at Boulder, detouring into local student watering hole The Sink — and he left, regular-guy fashion, with spilled yogurt on his pants. But Obama has been doing a lot of these kinds of relatively impromptu, "feel the pulse of the people" outings lately, says Chidanand Rajghatta at The Times of India. He raised a pint at a Capitol Hill pub on St. Patrick's Day, stopped for take-out Chinese food in San Francisco, and took wife Michelle out for a meal on Valentine's Day. Obama and the surprised patrons both seem to revel in these stops, with Obama easily "cracking jokes, signing autographs, and generally hanging out like a regular guy."
4. Slow-jamming the news
Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh were outraged by Obama participating in a "Slow-Jam the News" skit on Jimmy Fallon's late-night TV show this week, but Obama's merely the latest in a long line of presidents using on-stage "humor to show they're regular people," Politico's Joe Williams tells MSNBC. Dwight Eisenhower toured with Abbott and Costello, Richard Nixon went on Laugh In, and even Obama's 2008 opponent, John McCain, went on Saturday Night Live. Heck, "I'm sure if his consultants had thought about it," FDR would have supplemented his fireside chats with "a guest spot on Fibber McGee and Molly."
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