A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRESIDENTIAL DIGNITY, STARRING MR. T AND MICHAEL JACKSON
A former Poppy Bush speechwriter named Mary Kate Cary is now declaring in a U.S. News blog post that "Obama's Jay Leno Tonight Show Gig Will Diminish His Presidency." Her real, barely disguised purpose is to chide the president for declining an invitation to the Gridiron Club dinner; the Village will not be ignored, and her boss used to do it every year even though it killed him:
"The American people don't want a stand-up comedian for a president," I remember him saying to me. But he'd go anyway, his world-famous polite side taking over, so as not to snub the hosts.
But not only is Obama committing a sin of omission, he's compounded it with a sin of commission. The Gridiron Club dinner is discreet and dignified ... but Jay Leno's show! The Framers of the Constitution are rolling over in their graves!
In fact, no sitting president has ever appeared on any comedy show. Richard Nixon did "Sock It To Me" on Laugh-In as a candidate for president -- despite the objections of his staff, according to Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan -- and Bill Clinton did the Arsenio Hall Show, but also as a candidate. President Bush #41 went on Saturday Night Live with Dana Carvey, but only after he left office.
Actually, if we're going to count late-night talk shows as comedy shows, Richard Nixon did, in fact, appear on the New Year's Eve episode of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1971.
But that barely scratches the surface. As president, Ronald Reagan appeared on a televised "All-Star Party for 'Dutch' Reagan," honored by such dignitaries as Rich Little, Eydie Gorme, Angie Dickinson, and Dean Martin. He appeared on "Bob Hope's High-Flying Birthday" and "George Burns' 90th Birthday Party: A Very Special Special." He contributed to a televised clip compilation called "James Bond: The First 21 Years."
And, of course, he once invited Michael Jackson to the White House:
He uttered the following dignified words:
Well, isn't this a thriller? [Laughter] ....
Michael, welcome to the White House. I hope you'll forgive me, but we have quite a few young folks in the White House who all wanted me to give you the same message. They said to tell Michael, "Please give some TLC to the PYTs." [Laughter] Now, I know that sounds a little off-the-wall, but you know what I mean. [Laughter]....
And about this moment ...
... the less said the better.
Mary Kate Cary's ex-boss wasn't quite the showman his onetime boss was, but, as VP, Poppy Bush did make an appearance on Bob Hope's "All-Star Comedy Birthday Party from West Point" and (with Reagan) another Bob Hope extravaganza, the Hope-hosted "All-Star Celebration Opening the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum," which also featured Tony Orlando, Foster Brooks, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas, and Debbie "You Light Up My Life" Boone. And as president he made an appearance in "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue," an anti-drug film featuring Alf, Garfield, various Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters, and the Smurfs.
(And I won't even talk about the man Obama defeated last fall and his many, many appearances on The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Entertainment Tonight, Live with Regis and (both) Kathie Lee and Kelly, etc., etc....)
Cary really doesn't know what she's talking about. She chides President Obama not merely for his Tonight Show but for (naturally) his "casual" dress in the Oval Office (I still say he looks quite natty) and suggests that even publishing newspaper op-eds on real issues is undignified and unprecedented:
On Leno, he becomes just one more talk show guest, a celebrity on the circuit promoting his latest movie or book. It's a decision that speaks volumes about Obama's approach to the office. For that matter, so does his signing of op-eds about specific legislation in newspapers...
Er, George W. Bush, as president, published four op-eds. Read about them here, Mary.
And Cary also seems to think the president is going on Leno's show to tell jokes:
Doing the Jay Leno Show is doing the Gridiron, times ten. Much higher stakes: millions watching on live television coast-to-coast, with replays available on YouTube forever. No wine and silly warm-up acts to loosen up the crowd. Just walk in cold and be funny without a script.
Er, no. He's not Rupert Pupkin. He's the president of the United States. He'll be treated like a president.