Omnipresence, That Irritating Thing

Roger Simon’s problem with Obama’s ubiquity

On the scale of one to ten of irritating things that a president might do while dealing with an economic crisis, with one being not very and ten being tear-out-your-hair irritating, where does being ubiquitous fall? My vote would be maybe three.

For Politico’s Roger Simon, it seems to be pretty high on the scale. His column yesterday takes aim at Barack Obama for always being in the news, harrumphing that “George W. Bush was so quiet he was virtually speechless in his first 100 days in office”—even though he had to deal with Americans held hostage by the Chinese government, and race riots in Cincinnati. Obama, in contrast, “so fills the airwaves that he really should have his own network with the motto: ‘All Obama, All the Time.’” Or, as he puts it in a more flip manner: “Need an auto exec fired? A pirate killed? A dog patted? A Cuba policy addressed? An Easter egg rolled? An economy stimulated? Hey, he also does Seders!”

Simon’s argument seems to be that, cumulatively, Obama’s media appearances—the speech at Georgetown to talk about the economy, yesterday’s address on taxes, the First Pooch rollout, the trip to Latin America—border on overkill. “He doesn’t just control the news cycle, he is the news cycle,” he writes. Someone call the metacritical army—the president’s getting out of control!

The column is odd for two reasons. One, because it critiques the president’s high-profile-ness at a time when the president sort of can’t help but be high profile. Two, because having all but labeled cable news the “All Obama, All the Time” network (a culpable nickname if ever there was one), Simon then inexplicably proceeds to exclude the press from blame; he puts it on the president. The first seems like criticism for criticism’s sake: Obama’s omnipresence is, at a time of rapid-fire changes at home and abroad, just him doing his job as much as it is political stagecraft. The second seems like a gross oversight.

Simon could have used this observation of presidential omnipresence as a way to illustrate the contention that Obama is trying to do too much at once (as Gail Collins did yesterday). After all, that’s where the logic of ticking off his recent speeches, statements, appearances and trips might naturally take you. Or, he could have used the criticism of “All Obama, All the Time” coverage to comment on how the press is handling a president whose facility with words is turning him into his own best spokesperson. He hints at that latter point at the very end of his piece, asking, “So if a tree falls in the forest and Barack Obama is not there to talk about his forestry policy, does it really make a sound? Not a chance.”

But Simon doesn’t really latch onto this, or any other, larger observation. Instead, he lassoes dogs, pirates, drug cartels, and tax codes together into one big presidential to-do list, with little regard for whether Obama chose those items or they chose him—he didn’t, for example, engineer the pirate hostage situation to up his profile. Simon doesn’t really parse the here-there-everywhere quality of our president. He just observes it, with irritation, and that doesn’t go very far.

Because really, the “All Obama, All the Time” coverage is not some perpetual motion machine that runs on its own. Obama doesn’t magically appear on television; the media have to put him there (and nobody made them spend so much time covering the Obamas’ puppy). If Simon has a problem with the president’s omnipresence, with the fact that his “celestial” words (a Hillary criticism that Simon picks up and brushes off) redound in the news echo chamber, or that his face appears again and again in the news, then he must also have a problem with the media. Because if Obama is always here or there, then so are the cameras.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.