Raheem Kassam: David Cameron should not seek to copy Obama's "omnipresidency"
The roles of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom have become more aligned as of late, with image and style perceived to be as crucial as policy and ‘substance’ (as one now disappearing actor called it). To this end, it appears that politicians want to be seen out and about as much as possible – doing, thinking, meeting and speaking. I’d prefer they were working; call me old fashioned like that. Let us briefly consider Obama’s ‘omnipresidency’ compared with what effectively has been a rather modest outing thus far for David Cameron.
Politico.com reported in August 2009 that Obama had uttered over half a million words in public since taking office. Given his tenure, we don’t and probably won’t have access to that kind of statistical information about Cameron, however what Barack and Co seem to be doing is perhaps typical of the left. He’s micromanaging. Obama is involving himself in minutiae on an unprecedented scale; a tactic which some would argue is growing the ‘Presidential cult’ and demeaning the office of the Commander-in-Chief.
From insisting Massachusetts police acted stupidly during the arrest of Professor Henry Gates in 2009 to wanting to 'to 'kick BP's ass' over the Gulf Coast oil spill, Obama shows himself to be overly concerned with appearing active or in touch, rather than leading his country in a statesmanlike fashion. Cameron on the other hand seems reserved on this, despite our familiarity with his team’s fiddly and meddlesome modus operandi.
It’s really just ‘peacocking’ or abstract electioneering. These politicians want to show that they’re ‘normal’ – but we know the lives our leaders live is anything but that. Why make such purposeful efforts to masquerade this and patronise our ability to distinguish between statesmen and celebrities? In one whirlwind week last month, for example, President Obama made a third appearance on 60 Minutes, gave a major speech on the financial crisis and made five talk-show appearances the following Sunday. On the eighth day he appeared on Letterman.
This kind of political celebrity it seems only breeds further problems for elected officials. President Obama can only boast 'strong' approval ratings of 28% (43% 'somewhat approving') a stark contrast from Bush's mid-50s performance the same length of time into his Presidency. Of course, circumstances affect politicians in ways that their approach to marketing themselves can't always help - but I hope you don't consider it too cynical of me to suggest that Obama has attempted to rectify his flunking ratings by employing post-9/11 rhetoric. It's fantastically telling that not even this level of fearmongering or attempts to pull the American people together in a time of disaster seem to be helping.
For all the posturing, we must also consider the implications of having the media following our statesmen at all times. Being a celebrity for Obama has meant that he's been 'caught' taking in a quick nine-holes while the American public seethe, at his own behest no less at BP. If you'll pardon the crude comparison, these are our politicians 'nipple-slip' moments - and all the more dangerous for their re-election prospects.
Gordon Brown’s mission most recently seemed to be to comment on anything the media would allow. Jade Goody, Susan Boyle, Andy Murray, Jedward – this list continues. By March this year, I was personally convinced that Gordon Brown had replaced Lorraine Kelly on GMTV. Cameron mustn’t let ‘image’ consume him as he almost did during the election campaign. But this is creeping into the coalition, with the Deputy Prime Minister especially. It looks like Nick Clegg has replaced Eric Pickles as the palatable face of the coalition, being rolled out at every opportunity to defend policy and rally the country behind what are inevitably going to be some unpopular budgetary announcements.
There’s a lot of work to be done in government at the moment. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly be far more reassured if I didn’t hear from the Prime Minister on a daily basis, as Obama seems to think his job requires. It was one thing to see Cameron hopping on his bicycle on most campaign mornings on the run up to the election, but he's the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom now. A decent philosophy that our leaders should seek to employ if they want our votes next time: “Under-promise and over-deliver.” Unfortunately, the more they’re in the public eye – the more they end up over-promising.