GADFLY: Is Obama Overdoing the 'Just Folks' Thing? 

Okay, I admit it: just like that girl who sang about it during the presidential campaign, I've got a crush on Obama. I mean that in a manly way, of course, a "man crush" (according to the online Urban Dictionary). Like, if I ever got to meet him, I'd give him a fist "dap," or a man hug (you know, the handshake accompanied by the right shoulder bump), or maybe even a full body hug (the kind he seems to favor), but with the accompanying, de rigeur four taps on the back signifying "I-am-not-gay" (not that there's anything wrong with that). Okay, enough of trying to establish my macho, hetero cred.

My point is, I like our new president (even though I didn't vote for him---and, no, I didn't vote for "McLame" either, since I refuse to be a slave to the two-party monopoly, and I knew Obama wasn't going to carry Tennessee anyway). Two of the things I like best about him (other than his intellect and fluency in the English language---two more features that distinguish him from his predecessor) are his warmth and humanity. What a refreshing change from the cold, imperious elitist (phony Texas twang to the contrary notwithstanding) we had to put up with before Obama came along to demonstrate that it isn't a sign of weakness for a president to make us believe he's "one of us."

That said, I think he's taking this availability thing too far. Okay, so he had to fulfill a promise to appear on ESPN to discuss his bracket picks in the upcoming NCAA tournament (even if he did dis both Memphis and my alma mater, Pitt, in the process), but going to the Wizards-Bulls round ball game last week, and exchanging high fives with one of the Wizards' rowdy fans, was just too much for me. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he's actually going to appear on a late-night TV talk show this week, the first time in history a sitting president has done that. What can we look forward to next week, Mr. President, an appearance on American Idol maybe (which he'd win, hands down, since, for many, he fulfills that show's title, literally)?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for a president who considers himself a "man of the people." Some of our best, not to mention most effective and popular, presidents have succeeded in projecting that image. JFK playing touch football or Bill Clinton playing the saxophone, for example. The common touch isn't necessarily a bad thing in a president. But, let's face it: the President of the United States isn't one of us, not really. That's not to say he's better than us (and some, as we now know, have been a lot worse, that is if you consider criminality to be a bad thing in a president), just different. Oh sure, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, like the rest of us. But he also has to have some super-human traits, not only to be the president but to have survived the process of getting to that office, against all odds, to begin with.

I'm not saying I want our presidents to think of themselves in monarchical, or even dictatorial, terms. No, we've put up with that for the past eight years, and look where it's gotten us. I'm just saying it's perfectly Okay, and maybe even useful, for a president to have a certain air of detachment, and to separate himself from the hoi polloi. It's part of the tool kit of governing. We're fortunate to have a president who, unlike his predecessor, is willing to accept responsibility for his actions, and even (horrors!) to admit his mistakes. Fallibility is a human trait, and its admission not a sign of weakness. It does not, however, have to be accompanied by mixing it up with us common folk, or, as Obama did at the Bulls game, trash talking with other fans.

Obama doesn't have to adopt a fortress mentality, holing up in his White House burrow, only to pop out, like a groundhog, on designated occasions. But he also doesn't need to act like the only thing that changed when he moved from Hyde Park to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was his address. I admit, one of my trepidations about Obama's ubiquity in public is the increased risk to the security of a man towards whom many in this country harbor angry, hostile, maybe even violent, feelings. Frankly, it scared the proverbial wadooee out of me when he and Michelle popped out of the "tank" (as the new presidential limousine is now referred to) to walk part of the parade route on inauguration day.

So, Mr. President, please know that you've convinced us you're one of us, but please stop acting like you've got to be seen doing the things we do, going to the places we go, or even acting the way we act, to preserve that image. It's perfectly OK with us for you to be, and act, presidential, even if you have to be a bit less visible in public to do so.

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