Ethics Observations On The President’s “Funny or Die” Appearance.

You should watch the entire “Funny or Die” bit here.

1. As has been obvious from the beginning of his administration, President Obama has retained the most incompetent, tone-deaf, leadership-ignorant and inept advisors in recent history, and those advising his predecessors were nothing to be proud of. This means that President Obama has tolerated, and worse, followed the advice of such incompetent advisors. He also selected them. He is accountable.

2. For the President of the United States, in the middle of an international crisis in which his authority, power and stature is central, to submit himself as a prop in a comedy video is irresponsible, reckless, and shows abysmal priorities and judgment.

3. Political expert Larry Sabato, interviewed about the bit on CNN, resorted to an “everybody does it” defense, arguing that following Bill Clinton discussing his underwear on MTV, the dignity of the Presidency was pretty much beyond repair anyway. This is utter nonsense, and disingenuous as well. Jimmy Carter devoted his entire term in office to stripping it of any majesty, dignity or authority, from walking the route from the Capitol after his inauguration, to  sitting on porches in flannel shirts asking retired farmers how he should run the country. It took Ronald Reagan about six months to return the image of the office where it belongs. The leader of the United States isn’t a straight man, or a country store yokel. Whoever holds the office has a duty to protect its image and aura, because they are in no small part part of the office’s power.  Citing a President who disgraced his office and behaved like an over-sexed executive at the office Christmas party does not justify Obama’s disregard for the history, authority, public and nation he represents, allowing himself, and them, to be diminished and mocked.

4. Obama handled himself well in the encounter with comic Zack Galifianakis. I’m sure he would have taken a pie in the face or sat of a whoopee cushion with panache too.

5. I guess it is only a matter of time before we see Obama in wearing a sandwich board and handing out flyers promoting the Affordable Care Act. Quite apart from the inappropriateness of the President playing patsy as a comedian rolls his eyes and treats him like stooge, Obama’s voluntary transformation into PR flack for his precious law is nearly as embarrassing. Was there a previous instance when a President felt his best and highest use was to promote participation in a law that had already been passed and signed? The exercise looks transparently desperate, and, like almost everything this President does, weak.

6. CNN’s commentators, who are inclined to give Obama a pass on everything but seemed genuinely perplexed by the latest display of leadership ineptitude, suggested that while those “over 40” wouldn’t “get it,” younger Americans would probably think the President was being funny and cool. If true, somebody needs to teach younger Americans that leaders of powerful nations with responsibilities to million of people don’t need to be funny and cool. They need to be trusted, respected, and competent.

110 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The President’s “Funny or Die” Appearance.

  1. Glad you commented on this.

    2) its not bad for a president during an international crisis to do this.

    Its bad for a president to do this. Period.

    4) I don’t think for one second that this was scripted, or Obama at least had pauses (edited out) to make his replies… Which if we must find some silver lining, it was actually slightly amusing.

      • Indeed it was thoroughly scripted. It was an advertisement for the ACA. It was designed to make Obama look reasonable and for his uncritical supporters (and there is always a problem with uncritical supporters of anyone or anything) it will generate sympathy for a President they feel is disrespected by some parts of our news media. None of it should be taken seriously. We’ve already spent too much time writing about as it is.

        • Who cares if it was scripted? Irrelevant. (You could tell it was scripted because the lines were quickly and well delivered. When Obama is off script, he stumbles, stammers, and blunders…everybody knows this (but his uncritical supporters deny it, since it clashed with the Brilliant Genius” myth.)

          What is relevant is that the President lowered himself and his office to the role of cheap show-biz huckster. Everything a President does in the public eye is serious, because it affects his image, power and credibility. he looked weak and desperate—it was a terrible idea, proven by the fact that all the discussion is about him, not the ACA. I don’t expect uncritical supporters of a hopelessly over-matched President to understand presidential leadership—I would normally expect a guy who has been in the job for nearly 6 years to figure this out, but as I have pointed out before, Obama has flat learning curve, and this is one more, minor but embarrassing, example. And there will be more.

          • Actually, I disagree. It is relevent whether it was or was not scripted, as it would have implied quite different motivations, but that is all I will say as the topic is a bore now.

            • Huh? How do you come to that conclusion? The motivation was to plug the ACA and be funny, either way. If you think the continued degradation and misuse of the presidency is a bore, than go play Angry Birds. Nobody made you comment.

  2. Jack

    I give people under 40 a bit more credit. They see it, they understand it, and many reject it. “Not getting it” has less to do with age than it does with a willingness to maintain an abject ignorance of the world around them. Those that think its cool and hip (dating myself) are perfectly content to remain ignorant, willing to be fed the pablum of government speak and the devisive rhetoric so long as they are the beneficiaries of government protections.

    Perhaps we should reevaluate the compensation given the Chief Executive of the nation when he/she behaves like the pseudo-suave and sophist -icated Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House.

  3. that while those “under 40″ wouldn’t “get it,” younger Americans would probably think the President was being funny and cool.”

    Psst…. “over” “ov-er”.

    Nothing he does from about three years ago on will surprise me now. I kinda hope this midterm election takes some of his teeth out in the senate… But I just can’t see that happening either. I think we’re stuck waiting for 2016 at this point.

    • Oh wow. I think I just realized that I read that wrong. I thought that the CNN commentators were trying to find some kind of silver lining, in that young people would appreciate the performance and older people just didn’t get it…. I now realize that even CNN is taking a snipe here. Sorry Jack.

    • Fixed.
      My old girlfriend used to call this the JAM Syndrome, where I would say the exact opposite of what I thought I was saying–“Stop” for Start, hot for cold. It kicks in now and then.

          • No I did them that way because I wanted two men to a bunk, with Sefton getting one by himself , to open up more playing area and because that’s how they were in a lot of the Stalags. Thinking back on it I should have put more bunks in, faced the, straight out and added actors with no lines to fill out the cast. Maybe 15 or so.

  4. First, while Im not a fan of Jimmy Carter, his inability to be a good President had nothing to do with him sitting on a porch or walking the parade route . Reagan also walked the route and dressed in flannel but the difference is you had a real leader not someone completely over their head its scary. Your jab at a “country store yokel” shows your Yankee snobbery. Its not becoming of you so stop it.

    Second, this comedy bit was shot last summer. It has nothing to do with the crisis now. Its not like he took time out of his schedule now to shoot it.

    • You know we have yokels up here too, right?

      Unlike many things that I learned in school and have since realized to be utter hogwash, I have yet to see anything to cast much doubt on the words of a high school history teacher: “Jimmy Carter got elected because after Nixon, America wanted to elect President Friendly Grandpa.”

      • Really Jack? Total bullshit, You had a problem with him doing it during a crisis, I point out it was shot last summer so you change and modify your second point to combine it with your third point about demining the office. Bull shit.

        • 2. For the President of the United States, in the middle of an international crisis in which his authority, power and stature is central, to submit himself as a prop in a comedy video is irresponsible, reckless, and shows abysmal priorities and judgment.

          He is submitted to the world and the public when the piece runs. If he shot this during lunch yesterday but directed that it not be run until after the Ukraine crisis, that would be responsible (other than the fact that he shouldn’t have let it run it at all.) I repeat: it doesn’t matter when he shot it. It matters when the world and the public sees him acting as if this is the best use of his time.

          Nothing in anything I wrote suggested or assumed when he shot it. It does’t matter, and I couldn’t care less. What matters is when everyone sees him doing it. Or would you argue, if a network aired a movie about a school shooting the day after Sandy Hook, that it wasn’t offensive or bad taste because the movie was filmed before Sandy Hook? If so, you’d be consistent, and you’d also be wrong.

          • Is it equally wrong for him to appear in the video no matter what, or does timing have to do with it? Because I agree he shouldn’t have been in the video, not as silly as it was, but once it’s shot he can’t control when it comes out. Of course I’m a little surprised he didn’t TRY, given the current respect for free speech expressed by this administration, but I’ll at least say it’s not his fault that it aired when it did.

            Let me bend your example a bit- In the wake of Sandy Hook, Jim Carrey disavowed his involvment in the movie Kickass 2 because the real event made him squeamish about the amount of juvenile violence in the movie. Let’s say the premier had been scheduled for the day after the shooting and they’d gone through with it (or that a network had aired it, to use your specific idea)- it’s not Carrey’s fault, no matter how inappropriate the choice of broadcast time is.

            Of course one would HOPE that the president be smart enough not to appear on camera while president doing something that he wouldn’t want broadcast at will…

            • 1. Didn’t you answer your own question?
              2. Carrey is an actor. His image is irrelevant to this example, and he is not responsible in any way. He can afford to look like a doofus, a fool, or anything else–as long as he’s funny, it doesn’t matter.
              3. The President, in contrast, needs to consider the worst case scenario, and must not place control of his image and message in the hands of…a comedian????

              • You implied that he is equally wrong because of when the spot aired, regardless of when it was recorded. That seems to be just moral luck. He is to be blamed for acting the fool on camera, and he is to be blamed for not thinking of how it might look down the road if it were aired. He may be at fault for not doing more to prevent it airing now, although we have no way to know if he reached out to stop it and was rebuffed. None of those are as bad as if he’d said “Well, I’m bored of Russia, time to go tell jokes!”

                Second, my point isn’t that Carey’s reputation and Obamas are equally valuable. My point, again, is that no matter how thoughtless you were to appear on camera, you can’t be held responsible for when that video is aired. I would be more concerned if he had tried to force the piece not to be aired, as that would illustrate that he’s both thoughtless AND even more crazily authoritarian than I thought.

                Basically he IS in the wrong, but that doesn’t mean that when the bit was shot is moot. There IS a difference between being careless with your image when things are basically OK and goofing off in the middle of a crisis, even for a president.

                • Tell me, when have things ever been “basically Ok” in this administration? People are dying in Syria because of this feckless president. And in Irag. And he’s worried that his lousy health care law has been seen to be as bad as its critics always said it was. It would be moral luck if there could ever be a time when seeing the President in this setting wasn’t embarrassing and damaging. There couldn’t be. Yes, it is moral luck that the timing could hardly have been worse—except, again, this was NOT outside his control. The media accommodates the White House as a courtesy more often than it refuses. .

                  • Basically OK in the sense of there not being the looming threat of a major war breaking out that we are directly involved in.

                  • People aren’t dying in Syria because of this President. People are dying in Syria because of a civil war that was going to happen no mater what unless someone put ground troops on the ground or put up a no fly zone and STILL people would have died.

                    Its time we stopped trying the world policemen. Let them fight it out and when its done if our enemies win we will be rested and they wont and we can finish them then.

                    • Wrong, Bill. Somebody needs to be the world’s policeman, and of the possible candidates, the US is the only one with moral and ethical culture to be trusted with the job, not to mention the track record. That’s true as long as we belong to a corrupt and anti-American UN dominated with dictators. The day Iran can launch nuclear missiles at Israel, the world is going to need a policeman. Is your choice France?

                      The United Sates had it in its power to shape events in Syria and get rid of Assad with much less of a body count and less disruption to the area if 1) Obama hadn’t destroyed any US credibility with his clear signal that he doesn’t believe in projecting US power abroad and 2) had an actual policy, rather than making it up as we go along, and 3) paid attention to the budget deficits, so we could afford to spend the money.

                    • Plus Jack, there is absolutely no reason not to be the world’s policeman. Its OUR navy that makes EVERYONE else’s free trade possible. If we sat back and allowed regional hegemons to handle trade security, then you’d see global prices sky rocket, local competitions growing to regional conflicts and inevitably the same situation necessary for another global war.

                      Nope, sorry, we not only GET to be the policeman, we’re the only nation ethically and geographically compelled to be it, with the material capacity to do it while not impacting our private lives… If that isn’t a providential mandate, I don’t know what is.

                      1) we are a commercial republic, the best republic also. I would not trust any other system to handle these things.

                      2) being policeman does NOT mean fixing EVERY problem, only keeping regional hegemonies from forming that might create serious stability and security issues in the future.

                      3) allowing the debacle in Syria without ANY US power to check it, communicated to Russia, that go ahead, expand your base…

                      And no, we didnt need troops on the ground, but we could have parked a carrier group off shore and been ready to support our course of action with air power. Sending multiple messages at once.

                      4) anyone crying “but the world doesn’t like us” can shove it… The world has NEVER liked the US except for a brief period following WW2… They’ve always held our “rube” and “bumpkin” ways in disdain. So quit formulating your opinions based on what France or England or Italy or South Africa or wherever think of us.

                      5) anyone claiming “we can’t afford it” needs to go back and review history, especially points in time when our military was big, our private economic livelihoods were NOT affected.

          • I think the POTUS has more to worry about then remembering a piece he shot last summer and making sure it didn’t run now. The responsibility for that lays with the producers who should have taken it upon themselves not to run the piece .

            • He has no business “making sure it didn’t run now.” I’m irritated at the producers for airing it when they did, but the Prez doesn’t get to say “sure you have free speech, unless it makes me look bad when I don’t want it to.”

              • He can set conditions, and has every right to do that. He has an obligation to make sure that anything he shoots isn’t used to the detriment of the public interest. He could ask them not to run it.

                • Ask, sure, although I’m always wary of a “request” from an authority figure that’s really an order hiding behind a please. If he’d been really smart (although not smart enough to skip it entirely) he would have included, as a condition of participation, the right to veto the proposed air date. Once he failed that it’s ultimately out of his hands, or should be.

    • Carter did act like a country store yokel. I know it was an act—Jimmy’s a peanut farmer, but he’s also an educated and versatile, canny professional. He’s no yokel. (and Obama’s not Bud Abbott) The point is that a yokel image does not engender respect for the President. I have nothing against yokels. I just think its a lousy image for a President.

      When did Reagan ever appear in his official capacity in a flannel shirt? Or get out of the limo to walk on Inauguration day> It was always dark suits and ties, always, unless he was on the ranch.

      • Oh I think he was a yokel , just a yokel with delusions of grandeur. he has always impressed me as someone who thought very highly of himself.

        I stand corrected Reagan did not walk to parade route, although its a myth that Carter was the first, The first to walk to and from the inauguration was Jefferson.

        Reagan was shown in work shirts a lot on the ranch. It doesn’t matter where or when he was shown doing it just that he was. You know and I know that every photo they shoot and release is controlled so it doesn’t matter what the setting is.

          • Reagan did not dismount from his limousine in 1981, but did stick his head out briefly. He did nothing in 1985 because there was no parade in 1985 due to bad weather. Both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama have walked, but only part of the route, sometimes only the last block. I actually had to look this up, because I was under the impression (mistaken, it turns out) that Obama walked the whole way (he only walked a few blocks) while GWB did not walk at all (he did, but only briefly) due to threats of those opposed to him throwing things at him (someone threw an egg at his limo and much was made of that) . Bush DID have to forego a carriage ride with Her Majesty in London when MI6 couldn’t guarantee his safety.

  5. I don’t want to engage in the “everybody does it” defense. I do want to point out that the dignity of the presidency has been suffering for quite a while. In 1968 while running for president Nixon went on laugh in and asked “sock it to me?”. Humphrey declined an invitation to appear on the show. Both men later said that Nixon’s appearance may have won him the election. Which brings me to the question, do undignified vaguely comedic appearances help President Obama reach his goals?

    Clearly President Obama and his advisers think they do. Equally clear is that this indignity offends many people’s including my sensibilities. Perhaps they know they have already lost anyone offended by such indignity. I’ve always enjoyed irreverence. When those in charge of the institutions we are asked to revere engage in buffoonery irreverence loses it charm. It comes down to this: the presidency and much of government deserves ridicule. However, if you are president it’s your job to fix the presidency and the rest of government so that it is no longer deserving of ridicule, not to join in the ridicule.

    With regard to the comment made by THE Bill.This segment could not have been shot last summer. The president claims that the problems with healthcare.gov have been resolved. Last summer healthcare.gov hadn’t yet been launched and the problems hadn’t yet arisen much less been resolved. Considering that many problems with healthcare.gov still remain I think it is fair to say that the segment was filmed recently. Whether or not the current foreign policy crisis had yet arisen at the time of the filming is an open question.

  6. The “Celebrity in Chief” strikes again. I said much the same thing the first time the President appeared on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.

    That said, I still think that there is a place for serious people to do funny bits precisely because they are serious people. In comedy, the “Rule of Funny” applies, and it can be used effectively catch you off guard with something utterly unexpected. I’d say the Nixon Laugh-in bit is a good example. Also, the many VERY random celebrities who would poke their heads out of windows as Batman and Robin (Adam West & Burt Ward) climbed the sides of buildings.

    I didn’t find this F.o.D. bit funny at all. The only bit that came close was the falling backdrop…which would have been MUCH funnier if it had revealed an even more improbable location than just somewhere inside the White House . . . like the President’s bedroom or bathroom.

    –Dwayne

    • I found Zack’s eye-rolling, disrespectful attitude—I know it was the joke: I don’t care—unsettling and offensive. We should not watch citizens treating the President with contempt, even if its ironic, satiric, wink-wink contempt. If he urinated on the flag to make fun of extreme America-haters on the left, I would feel the same way. The President is like a living flag.

      • If the president is a living flag, does that mean that he shouldn’t be out at night and we shouldn’t let him get wet unless he’s been waterproofed? Because that sounds more like he’s a Mogwai. On the other hand, as long as we don’t break fire code we can burn him as protest…

  7. If we are going to be the worlds policemen then lets tax the rest of the world and conscript their sons and daughters to fight, if not screw them. If Iran gets close to having a nuke then blow the shit out of them. Don’t we have long rangle missiles anymore? Don’t we have Nukes?

    Its real easy for you to say “lets project out power” as I don’t see you or anyone you know having to go off and do it. The Marines and Soldiers I know are sick and tired of having to do it. Multiple combat tours tend to have that affect on you.

    • “Its real easy for you to say “lets project out power” as I don’t see you or anyone you know having to go off and do it. The Marines and Soldiers I know are sick and tired of having to do it. Multiple combat tours tend to have that affect on you.”

      This is a worn out cop out. No one is compelled to be in the military or have military service experience to render judgement on which objective we pursue and how. If our concern is soldiers tired from back to back deployments, we could easily afford the military that would almost guarantee one deployment per soldier every 4-5 years. But unfortunately defense gutting Democrats seem to prefer weak defense spending in order to spend mostly on vote buying programs.

      • It may be a cop out to you but not to me. As far as Im concerned if someone has never been in the military I don’t value their advice or opinion about how the military be used at all, whether I agree with them or not. And if someone has been in the military even if I disagree with them I still respect their opinion. All the rest can pack sand.

        The only way we could afford that is we raised taxes and I don’t see the Republicans agreeing to that. I prefer a draft. If you’re 18-25 you get drafted , no exemptions period.

        • That’s such a bogus argument, though- only veterans can decide how to use the military? Then can only diplomats decide foreign policy? Only doctors create health care law? You surely agree, then, that only women should be able to make any rules about abortion or birth control. Only retired pilots in the FAA?

          • I don’t care if you think its bogus, really I don’t. All those other examples you used don’t result in the person making the decision being sent off to kill or be killed.

            • Ah, the military martyr, my least favorite specimin. Did you join the service because it would give you a chance to feel superior, or was that just an unexpected side benefit?

              The military is an arm of US interest, defense, and foreign policy. As such it is used as a part of those policies, even if that means that decisions are made or influenced by non-veterans. Always has bene, always will be. You may be brave, heroic, and self-sacrificing, but you’re not some kind of special snowflake that gets to demand that only members of your club get to make any rules. Deal with it, princess.

        • “It may be a cop out to you but not to me.”

          Regardless, it is a cop out.

          “The only way we could afford that is we raised taxes and I don’t see the Republicans agreeing to that. I prefer a draft. If you’re 18-25 you get drafted , no exemptions period.”

          You are aware, that draftees still have to be paid… and a draft of 18-25 year olds would increase the military by something like ~20-25 million people (if you include girls). How is that a better option that just expanding the military to the size it was prior to the Clinton-Democrat reductions?

          And no, raising taxes is not the ONLY way to pay for a more intelligent and reasonable military. Other options include cutting the vote-buying programs that have been built around the Democrat political platform.

    • My father limped in pain every day of his life because he did it, and I’m sure glad he did. (I’m also glad he got wounded right before D-Day, or I might not be here at all…so he could end up at the Battle of the Bulge). I had two college room-mates back from Vietnam and the reserves—one was a drugged out mess, and the other killed himself. If I had to be in harm’s way to help keep the world from rotting around the US and those were the orders, I’d do it—I would have done it if it had worked out that way when I was draftable. Lots of dirty, dangerous, thankless jobs keep the world working, and I’m glad I don’t have to do them, but the fact that those who do are “sick of them” doesn’t mean they don’t still have to get done.

      • Sorry you’re wrong. You can’t expect the men and women of this countries military to fight a continuous non stop war.

        And if you wanted to serve you would have.

        • “If I had to be in harm’s way to help keep the world from rotting around the US and those were the orders, I’d do it—I would have done it if it had worked out that way when I was draftable.”

          Now, I KNOW you can read better than THAT. Where in the sentence above did I suggest that I WANTED to serve? Hell no I didn’t want to serve…who in their right mind would want to go fight in the jungle? I said a would have, and I took no measures to avoid the draft.

          Who’s talking about perpetual war? That’s a different matter entirely.

          • So you were not willing to fight for your country when it was at war but now you think you have the right to tell others to go off and fight? Its not a matter avoiding something its a matter of saying

            “Hey my country is at war Im going to join to serve.” THATS the difference.

            We’ve been in a perpetual war since we invaded Afghanistan. When you have Marines and Soldiers making two , three and sometimes four or five combat tours then you’re in a perpetual war.

            • Nice deflection by ignoring the difference between “willing to serve” and “wanting to serve.” There’s all kinds of things that people don’t want to do that they’ll do if someone says “you have to do this thing.” Not WANTING to means not signing up. Not being willing to means dodging the draft. But then again, since Jack’s not a veteran he’s not as good as you, so project inferiority at him. It will make you feel more important.

            • Bill, you are being an ass. I said I was willing to fight, and I was. I was prepared to, and preparing to. I wasn’t going to volunteer. That is a clear distinction that I would say applies to at least half the decorated military heroes in our history. I didn’t want to fight. To take one example I know well, Ted Williams was furious that he was drafted into the Korean War, and said so. He didn’t want to go, and felt he shouldn’t have been asked (I did NOT share that feeling with him…I should have been asked as much as anyone). But he did his duty and served, with distinction. What difference does it make that he didn’t want to go?

              Your position neatly shows why veterans and current soldiers can’t be trusted to make foreign policy. They are too often biased and emotional. I’m not surprised, but if they can’t get by that, then they shouldn’t be in command.

              • By the way—the problem you cite should be settled with a universal draft, men and women. You don’t make policy according to how fair it is to the military. You do what is in the best interests of the nation.

                • I don’t think a universal draft would solve that problem one iota. It would lead to a military with a dangerous level of experience turn over – worse than what some would consider a dangerous level of experience turn over right now.

                  It would create a bottom heavy military filled with discontents and those associated problems – such as we’d get to hear stories again of officers and NCO’s that couldn’t go into the barracks of their OWN soldiers without showing up ARMED with several fellow NCOs.

                  The flood of draftees would STILL have to be paid… would we rather have a gargantuan military of ill-trained malcontents draining the coffers? Or simply just a larger than current military of well-trained professionals draining the coffers much less?

              • Get your facts straight , Ted wasn’t drafted into the Korean War. He was drafted into WWII , he was recalled for Korea. He actively fought to not be drafted into WWII. Its one of the reasons I’m not his biggest fan.

                You’re right lets entrust the wagging of war to the men and women who’ve never had to suffer through it. Let the ones who’ve never killed or be killed be the ones to decide who has to be killed or be killed. Let the ones who when their nation was at war ignored the call to duty be the ones who tell other ones to answer it. Bull shit Jack total bullshit.

                • The Ted Williams question is a distinction without a difference. John Keats never served in the military, but I’d take his word on policy over that of George McGovern, who did in fact fly in WWII. Philip Berrigan served in WWII, and Richard Marcinko commanded SEALs in Vietnam, and I daresay no one should listen to their thoughts on war and peace seriously.

                  It is true that almost all United States presidents have been soldiers at one time or another. Ten have been generals, and a no-prize to anyone who can name all 10. Unfortunately, those 10 include at least two who were widely viewed as incompetent and two more who were at best ok, and some of the best presidents’ military service played a very small part in their overall careers (Lincoln, Reagan) or could be viewed as “playing soldier” (Teddy Roosevelt). Look abroad and you’ll see that more than a few competent political leaders – France’s Clemenceau, Britain’s Lloyd George, Disraeli and Gladstone, and West Germany’s Adenauer, to name a few, never wore a military uniform, and others, Italy’s Cavour and Germany’s Bismarck among them, served only briefly or, in Cavour’s case, left because they found military life boring. Yes, there’s something to be said for some national leaders with extensive military experience, like our own Washington, the UK’s Churchill and Wellington, and Poland’s under-valued Pilsudski, but I need only trot out Spain’s Franco, Japan’s Tojo and company, and the UK’s Cromwell, not to mention the recently deceased Chavez in Venezuela to remind us what happens when military leadership runs amok with no civil checks on it, not to mention France’s de Gaulle, Ireland’s Collins, and Turkey’s Ataturk as military leaders gone political who did some questionable things and perhaps might not have been totally comfortable ruling with enumerated powers. The idea that only military members should make these kinds of decisions just is not borne out by history.

                  I have tremendous respect for those who serve in the military and emergency services and put their lives on the line every day, but simply serving does not give you instant credibility nor make your opinion on certain matters more valid than others. This is the modern age, and the time when kings led their own armies and the fighting class made all the decisions is long past. I spent four years battling public sector unions who, although largely composed of cops and firemen who I respected, were all too often defending idiotic behavior by one of their own or economic policies (i.e. pensions) that were not sustainable in the long run. The tone of these posts does go, I’m sorry to say, in the direction of “being an ass” as Jack rather bluntly (but not inaccurately) put it. If you want to have a civil discussion about the role the military and veterans should play in national policy, then fine, but a civil discussion’s not possible if you are going to take the approach of “I served, I win,” just like a real discussion on reproductive policy isn’t possible if one side is going to take the view “no ovaries, no opinion.”

                  • Thanks for taking the time to explain it.

                    Of course, I served. So does that mean that my opinion stated above also wins, despite its diametric opposition to The Bill’s elitist attitude?

                    • Unfortunately no, any more than Cindy Sheehan’s opinion wins despite Maureen Dowd saying she has “absolute moral authority.” If you win, you win on the merits. Sorry for the long-winded post, though the question of mixing military and political leadership in the modern era (say after the Napoleonic Wars) could well be the subject of a book.

                    • The key issue is understanding the importance of some sort of military knowledge and the role of the military in foreign policy as well as a rudimentary knowledge of how best to deploy a military in support of the foreign policy vision.

                      I can share The Bill’s concern, if it were pointed at a political climate, which more and more elects people who seem to have no clue about any of those facets above. However, The Bill would be wrong to assume that one MUST be a veteran to understand the facets above.

                    • I agree with your statement that it helps, indeed, it’s a prerequisite for national leadership to have some knowledge of how the military works, what its capabilities are, and so forth. A president lacking such knowledge upon election needs to learn it and surround himself with advisors who DO have that knowledge. Unfortunately, the last 2 Democratic presidents have fallen short in that, although least Bill C did not fall as short as Obama.

                    • It doesn’t mean you win, but it does mean that The Bill deems you worthy to argue against. My appreciation for your service and your nuanced attitude that, while military knowledge is an important informing factor, it’s part of an overall body of knowledge rather than “no veteran no opinion” as a simplistic and insular mantra.

                • Recalled/drafted—the distinction is real but technical. His stance as a de facto civilian ordered into combat is exactly the same either way.

                  I definitely think that soldiers who have been killed should be kept out of the decision-making and policy. Although the zombies seem to be winning on “The Naked Dead.” [That was supposed to be “Walking Dead.” Don’t ask.]

                  • Hahahaha, good one. I remember during the run-up to the First Gulf War one of the MA newspapers, I’ll be blasted if I remember which, ran an editorial about who to draft and who to grant deferments to. It went on and on long after the point was made, naming names and pointing fingers with suitable snark, but the long and the short of it was that the draft should fall first on the families of any politician in support of the war, and an automatic deferment should be granted to anyone who had someone serve in Vietnam. Good emotion = good drama = BAD policy.

                    • I am biased somewhat by the oft-stated opinions of my WWII veteran father, who frequently said that on average, the military personnel were the worst possible choices to make national and foreign policy, including decisions when and where to fight.

                  • Eisenhower was allowed to make the decision not to move faster on Berlin and Prague as a purely military decision, when it should have been a political decision, which affected countless lives postwar, so your dad’s position is certainly not without merit.

  8. Jack,

    To your point you make at 10:43, this article by Rick Atkinson makes the spot on commentary:

    “#7. The Army remained under civilian control throughout the war

    When the president, in July 1942, made the decision to invade North Africa, contrary to the advice of virtually all of his uniformed military advisers, he signed the order: Franklin D. Roosevelt, commander in chief. Harry S. Truman, not the military, made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Military strategy, not to mention decision-making, tended to be made during WWII by the civilian leadership, frequently counter to the military’s druthers. In American Strategy in World War II: A Reconsideration (1982), Kent Roberts Greenfield, a senior Army historian, listed almost two dozen decisions made by Roosevelt against the advice, or over the protests, of his military advisers, from 1938 to 1944. Besides the decision to invade North Africa, there were more than a dozen strategic decisions for which the initiative apparently came from the president. A good example of this is his initiative to declare that unconditional surrender would be a central Allied war aim.”

  9. I’m not sure the “Between the Ferns” appearance is that different from this fictional (yet plausible) hypothetical: In the months prior to Pearl harbor, US policy toward the war in Europe is the subject of heated debate. Charles Lindbergh is on the speaking circuit as the face of a popular isolationist movement, and FDR is trying to aid the UK war effort. FDR decides to appear on “The Jack Benny Program” on radio as himself, poking a little fun at himself and managing to promote Lend Lease to Benny’s audience. I also don’t think it’s that different than a hypothetical President Romney or McCain appearing on a webvideo with, say, Dennis MIller to promote some policy initiative (say, a tax cut) whuile the Ukraine crisis simmers.

    I’m also not sure that this is very different from a couple of real incidents. In 1975 or early 1976, Presidential Press Secretary Ron Nessen hosted “Saturday Night Live” during its first season. President Ford in a couple of short filmed segments. Ford wasn’t selling any program or policy initiative, I’m not sure but if memory serves this happened about the same time as a minor foreign policy crisis (the seizure of a US warship, the Mayaguez). Same goes for several Presidents appearing on late night talk shows either as guests or part of a bit such as Letterman’s “Top 10”.

    For better or worse, we’ve come to expect Presidents to be personable; that’s probably why Ford did SNL and most presidents and presidential candidates over the last 30 hears or so have appeared on late night TV while in office. It’s also why they all do the Al Smith Dinner during an election year, and why they do what amounts to a standup routine during the White House Correspondents Dinner.

    As long as the President in question is not being offensive (the best example I can remember is Bush 43’s “I know the WMDs are around here somewhere” crack during the White House Correspondents Dinner) or if the President does this excessively (and no president from either party has yet done this), demeans the office (this didn’t), or does it in such a way that interferes with his job performance (like if Henry Fonda’s fictional nameless president in “Fail-Safe” would interrupt his negotiations with the Soviet premier to appear on a TV variety show)., I don’t think something like this crosses the line. Whether it was effective or even funny is a subjective call, but it’s a minor faux pas at best.

    • 1. FDR would not have agreed to appear on the Jack Benny program, and doing so would have been regarded, properly, as a blight on the office.
      2. If FDR did have such a lapse in judgment, Jack Benny would never treat him, even in jest,disrespectfully, which was the comic’s approach in “Between the Ferns.” Being contemptuous and insulting to the face of the President is neither funny nor appropriate.
      3. You argument is essentially a collection of rationalizations, from “Everybody does it” to “It’s not the worst thing.”
      4. Neither Ford nor Nesson should have appeared on SNL. Ford lost, by the way, and this was also post-Watergate, when the public wasn’t sure it wanted a President any more. The Carter experiment convinced them otherwise.
      5. The Al Smith dinners and the White House Correspondents dinners are private affairs, not public. Bush’s WMD joke was a misfire and in bad taste. That was one joke.
      6. You are just wrong. If it is harmless, that is only because Obama had already so thoroughly diminished the office—stumping for Chicago for the Olympics, taking lavish vacations in the midst of crisis, appearing as a college basketball prognosticator, and playing huckster/salesman rather than statesman—that there isn’t much harm left to do.

      • No?

        James Madison in 1814, during the play “the Rivals” put on at the Walnut Street Theater, he made a cameo appearance in stage and plugged for a central bank while the White House burned…

      • 1. FDR probably wouldn’t appear, but I still think it’s plausible, especially given the strength and profile of the isolationist movement circa 1940. Lend Lease wasn’t as signature for FDR in 1940 as health care is for Obama in 2014, but FDR still saw it as vital and I can see him possibly doing it. FDR, after all, tried to shed his patrician image with the public, could be self-effacing (the famous “my little dog Fala” joke, and notably served hot dogs to the King of England in his first official state visit to the US. An appearance on “Jack Benny” would’ve been unlikely, but still within the realm of possibility.. Consider, too, the trouble Harry Truman later got into over a photo of him smiling and playing piano while Lauren Bacall vamped it up sitting on top of the piano.

        2. Had he appeared, I think FDR would’ve played straight man to Benny, and I think it’s arguable that Obama was playing straight man to Galifianakis in the “Funny or Die” clip. If anything, it’s Galifianakis who’s the butt of the humor in the “FoD” clip, not Obama (this isn’t that different from Stephen Colbert’s much better routine on “The Colbert Report”).

        3. I’m not so sure it’s so much everybody’s doing it as it’s become common practice. The image of the presidency has changed since the advent of mass media. That change hasn’t entirely been positive: Americans seem to want a talk show host/parent figure more than they want a leader, witness the “who would you rather have a beer with” or “who would you rather have babysit your children” polls, and I think basing a vote on whether you “like” a candidate more is poor grounds – I’ll take Gregory House as my physician over Marcus Welby if House will cure my illness. I’m not sure this is something other leaders would do, such as Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande, but I’m also not sure this is a real demeaning of the presidency either. There are plenty of things to knock Obama over, but this is pretty harmless. This is also not that different from Obama’s appearance in 2012 on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”. YMMV, of course.

        4. My memory of the Ford appearance is hazy (I was 12 at the time), but I seriously doubt the SNL appearance had any real impact on his electoral prospects either way. The pardoning of Nixon (an act that was, in my judgment, distasteful but probably historically the right choice) and his “liberation” of Poland during a debate with Carter were *much* bigger. Ford came within a hair of winning that election (and he should have – Carter was a disaster, and I say that as a liberal Democrat). My best memory of the Ford appearance was it involved two or three very short filmed segments that were about as edgy as melted butter, and fairly apolitical (unlike the Obama “FoD” appearance)

        5. I think it could be argued that the Al Smith Dinner and the WHC Dinner are quasi-official, even though they’re sponsored by outside groups (the Archdiocese of NY, the White House Correspondents’ Association). I know there has been some criticism of the WHCA Dinner from some journalists, but more on the grounds that it demeans journalists (and that it has them schmoozing with the people they cover) than that it demeans the presidency. That brings up the larger question: how exactly is this different from “Funny or Die”?

        Also, re: the Bush WMD joke: I think this is the one major instance I can think of during a “comedy” related event that a President has crossed the line. As you note, it was in bad taste, though I would suspect it wasn’t intended to offend but to be self-effacing, but during a conflict where American service members were dying and the rationale had been largely debunked by then – not good. LBJ never would’ve made a similar joke about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, for example.

        6. I’m not sure there was anything particularly wrong with Obama promoting the Chicago Olympic bid – IIRC the UK PM promoted London’s successful bid for 2012, and I’m pretty sure the Brazilian president promoted Rio’s successful 2016 bid They did this largely because they saw it as good for the UK and Brazil, respectively, and one thinks that Obama would’ve seen a successful Chicago bid for 2016 as good for America, promoting tourism. Same goes for his NCAA basketball predictions: is this any different than Presidents throwing out the first ball at a baseball game? Had FDR promoted an Olympic bid or Eisenhower predicted a World Series winner at the beginning of the season, I doubt it would’ve been any different, and their statesman credentials are impeccable.

        • That’s the best opposing brief for a defense that I could imagine or mount myself—good job. Its still fails.

          1.Galifianakis was playing “well here’s another asshole promoting something,’ and it was disrespectful. The “last black President” hits too close to the bone—I think Obama has been the anti-Jackie Robinson, and will indeed make it harder for the next black candidate, no matter what his or her qualifications.

          2. “There are plenty of things to knock Obama over, but this is pretty harmless. This is also not that different from Obama’s appearance in 2012 on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”. YMMV, of course.”

          Other commentators do not properly appreciate the basic principles of presidential leadership as well as I do, to be blunt. A president who does this strips himself of the inherent armor the office gives him. The appearance on Fallon was similarly wrong-headed, but at least Fallon was respectful.

          3. “I’m not so sure it’s so much everybody’s doing it as it’s become common practice.” A distinction without a difference: it’s an unhealthy and destructive practice, common or not, just as the President spending work time doing so many partisan fundraisers. It’s harmful and undermines the duties of the job.People also expect Presidents to be dishonest and ineffective—that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to be otherwise.

          4. It is clear that this is an insiders event, and that the President is not presenting himself as a clown to pander to a trivial audience. That’s the obvious distinction. The average citizen takes no notice of the Al Smith Dinner and the WHC Dinner. If I were President, I’d decline to “perform”—and I’m a pretty good performer.

          5. It was a narrow, partisan task beneath his office. Britain is not the US, and the PM isn’t the President. Would the Queen lower herself to such a task? No.

          6. Rooting is fine. Playing sportscaster and doing an extended bracketing segment shows a President who doesn’t have priorities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.