Their view: Look beyond the president’s celebrity

Now that the 2008 presidential election series is over, the media circus surrounding it has shifted its focus to Barack Obama’s first days in office. Since the inauguration, and even since his decision to run for president, media outlets have given the new president nothing short of the celebrity treatment – scrutinizing his every move, from major policy decisions like moving to close Guantanamo Bay to matters of triviality like his Blackberry addiction.

Given the importance of government policy in these times of economic and diplomatic crises, it is perhaps expected that we closely examine the actions our new political leaders take in an attempt to right America’s course. And of course, given the historical nature of Obama’s ascent to power – both as the first African-American president and the major ideological departure he represents from the policies of recent years – it is probably appropriate that we have a special interest in the goings-on of the new White House residents.

The virtually non-stop coverage of the Obama presidency since the inauguration presents an interesting prospect to consider, though. We should be careful not to over-brand our political leader to the point where our expectations of him are unrealistic, our scrutiny of him is almost obsessive or our love of him is almost religious. The cult of personality that has arguably surrounded Obama since he first announced his candidacy may now interfere with our ability to judge his leadership as, well, a leader – an instrument of government policy, rather than the messiah sent to solve all our ills.

This is not to say the media should ignore or neglect the many policy proposals pursued by the new government. It could be argued that worthwhile media scrutiny of government is something our country has sorely lacked in the past few years. But as citizens of a democracy, we cannot allow our responsibility to question our leadership become an obsession with our new favorite pop star, if it hasn’t already.

Now that the intense passion of the campaign season is over, the Emerald editorial board feels it’s time to step back and think about how we should behave with respect to the American president. It would only lead to disaster for our country if we choose to treat our leaders not as mere men, but something more, something worthy of hero worship that blinds us to the reasonability of our expectations and the recognition of their flaws.

At the very least, media and public scrutiny of the president should focus primarily on the actions of relevance to the future of the republic, rather than the first lady’s fashion choices or the breed of the White House puppy. We hope that in the near future, as we embark on what are certain to be important changes in the policies of the American government, both liberals and conservatives keep in mind that Barack Obama is still, simply, our president and deserves the reasonable level of expectations and attention we would afford any other political leader.

The above editorial was originally printed in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon’s student newspaper. The content was made available by U-WIRE.