President Obama’s focus in the last days of his presidency is to boost his own public image and improve his legacy.
In an exit interview with Rolling Stone, Obama noted that marijuana should be treated like alcohol and tobacco, but in his eight years as president he has made little effort to decriminalize the substance. Nonetheless, his loyalists propagate the comments as though vocalizing this stance is sufficiently praise-worthy in itself. Articles that appeared in Esquire and Inverse attributed Obama’s comments to him being a “Cool Dad.” “Obama, the Cool Dad President,” is the mantra the Obama Administration is desperately trying to convey in the president’s last few weeks in the White House.
“President Obama Just Released the Ultimate Cool Dad Workout Playlist,” read a Time magazine headline from October. “Watch Cool Dad President Obama Dance to Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ With Usher and Janelle Monae,” read another October Time magazine headline. “He’s not a regular dad, he’s a cool dad,” noted the tagline to the article. “Obama Continues to be a Cool Dad, names his favorite rappers, including Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper,” read a New York Daily News headline from October. “Obama’s Dad Dance Moves Made a Glorious Return Last Night,” read a Vanity Fair headline from November.
During Thanksgiving week, the media focused its attention on Obama’s “Dad Jokes” in lieu of, say, the ongoing violence toward water protectors fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.
“This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our blessings, and work to fulfill the timeless responsibility we have as Americans to serve others,” Obama tweeted on Thanksgiving, which provoked hundreds of tweets calling out Obama for his hypocrisy, demanding he practice what he preaches, and finally stand with the Standing Rock Sioux to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. After 2,000 veterans showed up to Standing Rock, provoking an increase in media attention on the water protectors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was forced to halt the project and announce an environmental impact study to explore alternative routes. The decision, although good news for water protectors, leaves the pipeline open to threaten other communities, or at the very least, puts off the construction for the Trump Administration to deal with. Obama could easily make Standing Rock a national monument, the best shot to permanently protecting the Standing Rock Sioux from the pipeline, but his legacy appears to be his only priority.
The “Cool Dad” narrative isn’t a new phenomenon in the uncritical, celebrity cultist coverage Obama has received. In June 2016, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s (FAIR) Adam Johnson conducted a review of BuzzFeed’s coverage of Obama, in which the publication’s entire coverage provides no criticism or accountability for Obama’s presidency. “Obama is the most powerful person on earth; that sites like BuzzFeed decide to cover him like one of the Jonas Brothers does not make him any less so,” wrote Johnson.
This power-boosting coverage has increased toward the end of Obama’s presidency from all facets of mainstream media. A film about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date was recently released, entitled Southside With You, the only major motion picture to provide an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of a current sitting president. Netflix is releasing a flattering biopic on Obama’s college years called Barry on December 16.
Leading up to the presidential election, several media outlets reported Obama’s popularity was soaring. Post-election, a CNN poll based on 1,003 responses found Obama’s approval rating was the highest it’s been since he first took office. Mic.com reported Obama is considering launching his own media company when he leaves office (though the White House denied the source’s claim). Mainstream media outlets have alleged the economy Obama is leaving Trump is a gift that is “the envy of the World,” demonstrating the media’s continued obliviousness to the working and middle class that have not recovered from the 2008 economic recession.
“I think what has to be recognized is there are millions of working people in this country who are in an enormous amount of pain and despair,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. “These are 60-year-old workers, today, half of whom have nothing in the bank as they are approaching retirement. You’re 60 years old and you’ve got nothing in the bank? You’re going to live on $13,000 a year of Social Security? This is what you have to look forward to?”
When it comes to holding Obama accountable on his failures, shortcomings, and continued inaction on important issues, the mainstream media is stuck in a happy, celebrity bubble. From Obama’s recent delayed and insufficient action on the Dakota Access Pipeline, to disastrous interventionist foreign policies and corporate socialism under his administration, Obama continues to be treated as an hero, and not an elected official who fell short on delivering many of the promises of hope and change his populist presidential campaign made.