Friday, July 31, 2009

When you say Dana Milbank, you've said it all

I noted in this post how the White House Beer Summit seems to have been an extraordinary inspiration for puns.

Now, Dana Milbank, writing in The Washington Post, has taken that to even higher (lower?) levels.

I suppose it's too early to say whether the "Summit" (by the way, that's also a beer brand) will help either 1) race relations, or 2) President Obama's P.R. Has the humorous commentary on the event played up an image of folksiness, that Obama presumably intended? Or has it made the president a laughingstock?

One thing seems certain to me: it is the latest in a long line of presidential gestures intended to make a president look like one of the common people.

Presidents have come from families of various socioeconomic levels. But, by the time they enter the White House, they have generally reached a high level of prestige, measured by some combination of wealth and/or accomplishment in various fields of endeavor. That's a prerequisite to seeking the job, but, at least since the time of Andrew Jackson, presidents have tried to temper their high image by occasionally acting more like a regular Joe.

William Henry Harrison, a Virginia aristocrat, portrayed himself as a flinty frontiersman in his presidential campaign.

John Kennedy, whose money was a bit too new to qualify him as an aristocrat, but who was not exactly working class, once attended the major annual fundraiser of his party in Minnesota, the DFL Bean Feed. He noted the irony of a Bostonian traveling so far for baked beans. But he did not mention the irony of such a wealthy man indulging in such a plebeian repast.

George H.W. Bush, an upper-class New Englander transplanted to Texas, played up his Lone Star status by eating pork rinds and pitching horseshoes.

Now, maybe Barack Obama, when he took his Ivy League degrees to the Hyde Park enclave of South Side Chicago, and entered the world of academia, enjoyed Bud Light when cocktail hour came along. I don't know. He has never invited me for a drink. But I can't help but think that his suggestion to Sergeant Crowley that they have a beer, was intended to make the president seem like just one of the guys. Perhaps it was a spur-of-the-moment gesture, not leaving Obama time think through the media implications. Now that he's seen the reaction, I wonder whether he wishes he had structured the meeting in another way.

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