Stop Being a Celebrity, Start Being a Leader

by: David Sirota

Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 09:15

Dear President Obama,

As you back off the public option and demand an extension of the Patriot Act, I'm fairly disappointed in you on policy grounds. However, I'm downright irritated with your seeming desire to be a celebrity icon first, and a political leader second - so friggin' iritated, in fact, that I'm resorting to the super-irritating cliche of this, the open letter format.

Between seeing you grab headlines in the Kanye West "controversy" and now hearing of your upcoming television tour, it seems clear that right now, you are very interested in attracting attention from the pop and D.C. media. Now, I'm sure you argue that those media are decent conduits to deliver political messages - and that may be true. However, it seems to me that if you were genuinely interested in immediately passing a serious health care bill, you would refrain from the celebrity media and the D.C. chat shows that almost no one but D.C. insiders watch, and do some of the less glamorous work that could actually deliver results.

Specifically, it seems to me that if you went to states like, say, Montana, Iowa and Maine and publicly hammered Sens. Baucus, Grassley and Snowe as obstructionists, there's a decent chance they would fall in line (especially Baucus, who is a Democrat who always worries about losing a primary). At minimum, doing that kind of thing, rather than spending time on national/glam television and courting elite journalists/talk show hosts, gives you a better chance of delivering concrete legislative results, even if it might make you momentarily less of a pop culture celebrity.

Then again, actually doing the unglamorous, hard work of putting pressure on wavering legislators would require a willingness to be a bit confrontational; to spend some political capital rather than hoard it; and to use the element of electoral/political fear - all of which you have refused to use. Indeed, I agree with the Politico - for all the talk of you hiring "tough" people who curse a lot, you and those supposed "toughs" have helped make you one of the only presidents in modern history that most members of Congress do not fear in the slightest.

Perhaps that's because the very things you eschew (ie. actually going into someone's district and pressuring them) is what might make them nervous, and the very thing you embrace (national media celebrity) is something they aren't afraid of.

I'll end just by stating the obvious: As president, you'll always be a celebrity. But what we really need right now is a leader.

Hoping you'll take this under advisement,

David Sirota :: Stop Being a Celebrity, Start Being a Leader

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I wanted a President (4.00 / 3)
not a spokesmodel

This is Barack Obama speaking through my sock-puppet Jacob Freeze... (2.00 / 2)
Z'up, Dave!

I caught your act on Fox a few weeks ago and... dude!

You need a new suit!

Malia kept asking me "Is that a monkey, Mr. President? Is that a monkey in a bad suit?"

It's very cute how she calls me "Mr. President" instead of "pater," which a couple of the writers pushed at pre-rehearsal. This took the role in a very "Lisa Simpson" direction, and we probably had to recast, but Michelle nixed that, and then Rahm just had to say "We coulda had Thandie Newton," and Michelle got him in a scissors-lock, which woulda been the end of that little weasel except the show-runner Axelrod got her off him, but both of them were so beat-up already that we had to use body doubles for the next four episodes.

So take care of that suit thing, Dave, and don't let my sock-puppet Jacob Freeze get delusions of grandeur! He was supposed play my "conscience" in the sequel, but that role got left on the cutting-room floor.

[ Parent ]
Well, if you ask me… (0.00 / 0)
...(how's that for a super-irritating cliche header?) Sirota comes off quite well as a talking head, but it's his blog posts that seem kinda over-the-top, bordering on unreasonable. Could there be a lesson in there about how the different mediums work? I me, a President who feels it's necessary to speak to or engage the public is preferable to one that doesn't--even if I don't always dig what he's saying.


"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

[ Parent ]
Cool (4.00 / 1)
but it's his blog posts that seem kinda over-the-top, bordering on unreasonable.

The "left" needs to be a bit more unreasonable. I might be concerned if that was all that was offered, but as you say, it is not.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
The left needs to learn how to play to win… (0.00 / 0)
...period. And, boy, do I hope it turns out that we've been seeing alot of Obama's poker-face.  

"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

[ Parent ]
Winning is easy (4.00 / 2)
if you have low enough standards, flexible morals, and clever speech writers, you can win every time.

Doing what needs to be done is a different story.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Sounds like you're talking about being co-opted… (4.00 / 1)
...and calling it a win, not actually winning. A better strategy might be calling things what they actually are? Quick example: A couple of weeks ago, Open Left blogged about a NY Times editorial that suggested Obama "go all in" on healthcare reform (pharma caps, public option, whatever), as the reasonable response to GOP stonewalling. Pursuing that line makes them the cranks, not us. When doing what needs to be done is not perceived as unreasonable, I think we're in a much better position.

"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

[ Parent ]
I was being cynical (4.00 / 1)
You are correct. The trick is to make what needs to be done appear as the most reasonable course of action. That is why it is helpful for some parts of the "left" to present "unreasonable" positions.  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
is this really convincing? (0.00 / 0)
Please name me an example of a President going to one of his own party's congressman's districts and publicly attacking him. Remember Bush getting Specter in the 2004 primary? Clinton gaining respect by bringing down the 1994 Congress? No, none of these things ever happened, so I really don't know what this is supposed to mean.

As for the TV complaint, I wonder at the mentality that can be so offended that Obama appears on TV while at the same time thinking Snowe would not be offended by Obama attacking her on TV. It's simply beyond my understanding.  Do explain.


New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

here! here! I agree wholeheartedly!! (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
It's about using the publicity of the bully pulpit effectively. (4.00 / 1)
Obama's more interested in being liked by everybody than he is in acting in everybody's interests.  As a result, he is liked by fewer and fewer people.

Presidents who built reputations for getting things done did so by applying pressure when and where needed, even upon members of their own political parties, because it was more important to ensure that favored legislation passed than to score popularity points.  That's how politics work.  When popularity supplants the drive to achieve badly needed reforms, politics stop working.

[ Parent ]
um, "he is liked by fewer and fewer people" well... (0.00 / 0)
not necessarily true...his poll numbers across the board have gone up since his health care speech to Congress

[ Parent ]
Wait until he blows that with more capitulations to the far right. (0.00 / 0)
It's part of his overall pattern.

[ Parent ]
note his disapproval ranking at kos (4.00 / 1)
are almost back up to 40 again within the week of his speech.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
and how much of that is disapproval from the left?? (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
if you are following (4.00 / 1)
10 or 12 percent and climbing.  I won't vote for him again without it period.  I will also not vote for any other vile dlcer.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
it stopped climbing (0.00 / 0)
and no one gives a shit what you do.  

[ Parent ]
I believe it is temporary (4.00 / 1)
and I know you right wingers would like to write me off.  Why don't you leave if you don't give a shit about us?

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Um (0.00 / 0)
you do realize that number was from last Friday and was down from the low 40's


[ Parent ]
than they never went down all that much (0.00 / 0)

My blog  

[ Parent ]
dropped 4 points (0.00 / 0)
net change was +8 points. +13 among Democrats, +6 among Independents.

You wanna try again?  

[ Parent ]
FDR (4.00 / 1)
FDR had a campaign against a group of weasels. (mostly it didn't work but he sure went after them).

LBJ got a VA Democratic Senator defeated in a primary.  The man made constant jokes about Lady Bird.

I'm sure there are more.  That's off the top of my head.

Hey, Andrew Johnson went on a whistle stop tour that included "celebrities."  One of them, poorly received, was a political and military klutz named George Armstrong Custer.

The point is that there is a very long history of that sort of thing.

[ Parent ]
I for one trust the President's instincts, not political blog hacks and internet self-appointed gurus... (1.33 / 3)
Th President has done something right to get him to the point he is at in history (and Politico is a right-wing hack site, so why bother to quote them).  Politically, I am liberal, but I understand enough of the environment around me to know that I am in the minority and that getting things done means I will not get everything I want.  Check out the Wash Post survey, even 81% of liberals would approve of Obama's health care plan WITHOUT A PUBLIC OPTION.  Many of my other liberal friends agree with me.  Stop stomping around like little babies who can't get their way on everything and support the President, or you'll find yourself digging out of an even deeper hole with a Republican Congress and another Republican President.  And shouting back to me that President Obama and a Democratic Congress is not much better is simply wrong and ridiculous.

so the reality is... (4.00 / 3)
what should we be doing? blind support for the president because at least he is not republican? No matter how conservative the health care bill is?

Remember Democrats and the left won the house senate and presidencty, we should be passing liberal bills, thats what the country wants, they did not vote for a conservative democrat who will compromise,

This is the first battle of many over bills, if we pass a compromised conservative bill now than any future liberal agenda is pretty much dead-

whatever you think people owe you, that is what you owe people

[ Parent ]
well, I think (4.00 / 5)
that the Open Left frontpagers have a well developed critique of President Obama and the American political system in general even if you or I don't agree with all of it. (I myself don't, but in a scorecard they might have gotten more right than me.) They've each explained why they don't share your trust. It's not helpful to call them "little babies," even if my comment above is pretty aggressive, since I don't  buy this particular argument.  

To be clear, I think your comment has about as much chance of getting Sirota to change his mind as his plan of having Obama go call Snowe names has of getting her vote.


New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
not looking to get Sirota to change HIS mind... (0.00 / 0)
just letting him know that many of us liberals are more pragmatic and do not necessarily fall in line with his thinking

[ Parent ]
What's "pragmatic"? (4.00 / 3)
Surrendering one's principles, selling out the public to Big Business, these things are not pragmatic.  They are craven, cowardly, and weak, and they achieve nothing of substance.

If we are to define pragmatism, it would help to lay out what the "pragmatic" thing to do is, so we may render judgment and act accordingly.

[ Parent ]
But most of us weren't looking for a 'pragmatic' leader.. (4.00 / 3)
We expressed in detail what we thought and what we expected - he stepped promising to fulfill most of those expectations.  He's broken the bargain, repeatedly and has to shift farther to the Right to find replacements for those of us he's lost/losing.

F*** pragmatism.  

That's how we ended up with Patriot Act's I and II, how Sotomayor the Moderate was chosen to fill a Left leaning Justice position and, how we're now about to get Patriot Act III.

This health care bill will either end the Democratic party as we once knew it - a catastrophe for the country,  or it will ensure a successful future for all, including the retention of Democratic majorities in Congress.

Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
Babies? (4.00 / 6)
When families are being financially ruined and human beings are dying because health insurance providers, emboldened by a lack of competition, are running rampant with sky-high premiums and inhuman business practices, describing people who believe strongly that a robust public option is critical to addressing these abuses as "babies" trying to "get their way" is beyond offensive. This isn't just some whim.  

[ Parent ]
so, we sacrifice all the other good stuff... (0.00 / 0)
that would help these financially ruined and dying people because of one part of health care and insurance reform?  Makes no sense to me if we can provide any assistance to these folks who so desperately need it. Sorry you are offended, but coming from a lower middle class blue collar family that could benefit from some of the other parts of health care reform as I do, I am offended that you would just prefer they get nothing and keep on struggling so that you and others can make some progressive political point.

[ Parent ]
what good stuff? (4.00 / 6)
without public option all we have is mandates, which will quickly become unpopular once they go into effect, after 2012 reelection, hint hint! just as they are in Massachusetts.  He hasn't done anything good outside health care either.  The bailouts suck and were bad for America. He has done nothing for mortgage holders, and he hasn't stopped any wars yet.  

My blog  

[ Parent ]
"... stomping around like little babies..." (4.00 / 2)
Project, much?

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

[ Parent ]
Dude, you are so wrong it's pathetic. (0.00 / 0)
At what point has Obama or the right-wing of the Democratic Party ever proven that things are somehow better than they were under Republican misrule?  The issue is not whether we're better off under Democrats or Republicans, but that we are constantly saddled with right-wing politicians from both major political parties who insist on keeping this nation on a disastrous, utterly destructive course.

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

- Theodore Roosevelt


As for those who troll-rated the above comment, there is nothing in it that violated the site terms of use.  We do ourselves a disservice by abusing the site's rules to silence those with whom we disagree.  I say we simply destroy this Obamabot's baloney with the truth, and send him packing that way, rather than try to drive him off through troll-ratings.

[ Parent ]
i'm a little bugged too, but maybe these TV appearances will apply pressure to congress (4.00 / 2)
Maybe he's going to go out in front of the public, change the media narrative, raise public awareness, and by next week push for something better than the Baucus bill.

It's hard to apply pressure in politics unless you rally a huge number of voters (or donors) behind you.

You're kidding, right..? (0.00 / 0)
The TV appearances and pressure he's applied so far are all too non-specific.  That's the epitome of a post-election Moderate - they back down from earlier specifics and don't commit to anything leaving the door everything.

That wishy-washy empty talk is the sole reason the Right had a massive August tailgate party and easily roasted the Democrats nuts across America..

In November, I thought those days would finally be over.  I was wrong.

Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
great post david (4.00 / 5)
as usual, you give us concrete acts the president could be doing that he isnt to win this debate, instead of of usual corporate arguments that we see on tv, that are filled with talking points and spin,

keep the concrete ideas coming

whatever you think people owe you, that is what you owe people

Obama already made his deision to be a follower of right-wingers and their evil policies. (4.00 / 4)
He's drawn his battle lines, and he has chosen to side with Big Business over the public.  He's one of the enemy, and he always has been.  Progressives must finally accept this and work toward the movement's goals without him.  This will mean actively working against Obama, the other right-wing Democrats, and the Republicans, as long as all three insist on standing in the way of reform.

What you wrote (4.00 / 5)
is totally correct. Let us not forget the other horrors and continuations of Bush policies: Bagram, renditions, Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, preventive detention, escalation in Afghanistan, DOMA & DADT. I never thought he would be liberal enough, but this would be laughable if it were not so tragic.

[ Parent ]
Or maybe Obama should be MORE of a celebrity. (4.00 / 2)
David, while I actually agree with your views here (except for the characterization of Obama "grabbing headlines" with the Kanye thing -- which is unfair since it was an off-record remark that was wrongly leaked by the interviewer), I think Obama should actually be using the media more effectively than he is now.

One of the more powerful moments (for me) during the campaign was Obama's prime time TV special, where he laid out his platform and followed up with a live town hall. It was not only informative, but emotionally connected with me, and I remember thinking, "this guy knows how to use TV" and wishing he, as President, would do a weekly show like this, to get across his ideas in a user-friendly, accessible format.

I agree that Obama needs to be more of a leader, but I think that, rather than avoiding celebrity, he should be using his strengths more effectively. Let's face it, the guy is charismatic and by his very nature he attracts media attention. Why not maximize the potential of that quality?

I suspect that if Obama were on TV pushing for the policies Sirota supports (4.00 / 1)
David might be more lenient on the issue of the President's "celebrity".  

The US President IS a celebrity. That is a foregone conclusion. The issue, as you have more clearly described it, is how the President uses that celebrity and in support of which policy initiatives.

Thing is, IF Obama did everything Sirota asks, he'd likely be an even bigger celebrity. So, to my mind, the celebrity part is not really relevant.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
The celebrity part may be the problem (4.00 / 2)
Miley Cyrus (for example) is a celebrity.

FDR and Lincoln (for example) were Presidents.

Please note also that President and "leader" are not synonyms. "Leadership" can be real, but it's also something you read about in the kind of business books they sell in airports -- in its most innocuous manifestations. There are also manifestations of "leadership" that are considerably more toxic.

* * *

A President, as opposed to a celebrity or a leader, might put re-establishing the rule of law "on the table." To pick one of many examples.

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

[ Parent ]
True (4.00 / 1)
But you're asking those with ambition enough to seek the US presidency to actively work to "de-celebritize" the office. Don't hold your breath.

Obama is a product of our culture, not its orchestrator.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Celebrity v. Leader (4.00 / 2)
I'm totally with David's blunt assessments.  He's not a sugar coater- a testament to his Progressive-ness and I've found him to express many of the Democratic ideals keeping most of us in the party, so far.

Anyone can be a celebrity.  But not all celebrities can be leaders.  Bill Clinton is a great example of having what it takes to transition to deserving a higher level of decorum and respect than the typical celebrity receives.

I love Obama personally but if he does what David suggests, and I hope he does, I think he gets moved up a notch to that of a serious leader, deserving less of the circus atmosphere he gets now to one with more honor and humility.

In this country, however, that may be all a dream.  'Separate but equal' seems to have risen from the dead.

Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
Ha ha. You've never lived in LA, have you? It takes a buttload of (0.00 / 0)
charisma to attain celebrity status, and I believe Hooey's absolutely right- if Obama had leveraged his charisma and salesmanship from the get-go instead of hemming and hawing, we wouldn't be where we are.

And, really, Bill Clinton? First of all, he's n-o-t known for a "higher level of decorum." Secondly, what has he leveraged his celebrity status for? So he could be a frontman for negotiations with N. Korea that almost certainly took place largely behind the scenes with the aid of other players? Or perhaps for the Telecom Act, the dismantling of welfare, and the repeal of Glass-Steagall?

 Thirdly, your "humility" comment together with your entirely incongruous reference to "Seperate but equal" starts to take this conversation in a dark direction. I'm not really sure what you mean by that, and I'm not sure I want to know.

[ Parent ]
I don't think we disagree (4.00 / 1)
on anything other than whether the issue is excessive celebrity, or a deficit of leadership. Satisfy the latter and the former is irrelevant. Satisfy the former and the latter remains undetermined.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
It's part of the rahmama strategy (4.00 / 1)
It's no surprise that the pope of hope is going out on tour now with his stand-up act ... acting as if he stands up for the american people instead of what he truly does:  serve big business.  rahm believes that he can always exploit the american public's childish tendency for celebrity worship.  The rahmbama team pulled this same shit when the aig bonus controversy broke out.  The american public, with their collective maturity level of a 14-year old, resumed their crush on their american idol president.  Meanwhile, after obama got his soundbite that he would leave no option unturned to get the bonuses back, pushed back against a tax doing just that.  And not a damn thing was done about those bonuses.

This is another sign that the head pr man of the establishment has no intention of giving us the public option as he would rather exploit his personal popularity to insulate him from the sell-out than fight for it ... and us.  The rahmbama team will keep going to the celebrity worship well until the american public stops acting like a bunch of star-struck children.  Leave that to the talk show hosts that are way, way too deferential towards him.


Why do you hate Obama? (4.00 / 1)
What are you, a racist?

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

Bogus health plan gives perfect opportunity for Obama... (4.00 / 1)
With this BS of a plan that Baucus is tossing out, after months of work and zero GOP support, this is a perfect setup for Obama on health care.

All he has to do now is say that no other options have been presented that will bend the cost curve, and a public option must be included in the final draft plan.  With zero GOP support anyway, and no way the Baucus plan gets through, the stage is set for Obama to get what he should want anyway, a decent health plan for America.

All it takes is some leadership!!

Yeah, but... (4.00 / 3)
He won the presidency so he's smarter than you--he's BRILLIANT, in fact!

You can't get everything you want in life.

He's accomplished so much by now, like promising to close Gitmo.

He's pragmatic and knows that he has to govern from the center.

Only a tiny minority of the country agrees with you far-left bloggers.

The public option isn't that important.

No one cares about torture, the war, bailouts, Wall St.

He rejects extremists on both sides.

He's a magical mystical superhero who makes his own rules and you're just jealous!

Hey, does anyone know where I can get a new "Yes We Can!" t-shirt?

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

i've got a ton of those t-shirts (0.00 / 0)
under box loads of "hope" and "change" signs.

haven't been able to move them lately for some reason.


do you guys want hope and change?

look in the mirror.  there it is.  

[ Parent ]

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