Ruth Marcus: Socking it to themselves

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: September 22, 2012
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Behold the Snookization of American politics.

The Middle East is in turmoil. The economy is struggling. Mitt Romney is on “Live! with Kelly and Michael,” talking Snooki and his bedtime wear (“as little as possible”).

The number of undecided voters is vanishingly small. The remaining ones tend to be the lowest of low-information voters, only intermittently tuned in to politics, if at all. These folks are not watching “Meet the Press” or calibrating candidates' positions on optimal tax rates. They are, predominantly, women.

So both presidential campaigns find themselves trolling in unlikely and, to be blunt, demeaning places, answering demeaning questions.

Thus President Obama sitting down with the ladies of “The View,” appearing on “Entertainment Tonight,” and opening up to “People” magazine. Last month, the president was on an FM station in Albuquerque dealing with such doozies as “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” and “What's your favorite song to work out to?”

The latter-day Edward R. Murrows of “Live!” covered the gamut from Kelly Ripa's “Who hogs the blankets?” to Michael Strahan's “Honey Boo Boo or Snooki?” (The former, I have since learned, is a toddler beauty queen with her own reality show.)

Romney reflected an uncanny familiarity with the “Jersey Shore” star. “I'm kind of a Snooki fan,” he said. “Look how tiny she's gotten. She's lost weight. She's energetic. Just her sparkplug personality is kind of fun.”

Candidates' attraction to popular culture isn't new. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon appeared on Jack Paar's “Tonight Show” during the 1960 campaign. In 1968, Nixon did his “sock-it-to-me” cameo on “Laugh-In.”

In 1992, to much tut-tutting from Serious Folks, Bill Clinton famously appeared on Arsenio Hall, wearing sunglasses and playing the sax. This course was laid out in a memo by strategists Mandy Grunwald and Frank Greer, advising that “in tandem with our high-road, serious speech effort, we ought to design a parallel track of pop-culture national and local media efforts.” To those who “say these kinds of things are ‘unpresidential,'” the strategists responded, “Bull. This is how people get information.”

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