THE OTHER MORNING the TV news showed a picture of President Obama delivering a speech in Virginia. Not only was he in shirtsleeves, but he was in the rain. There was some disagreement between the assembled commentators about what reactions this image provoked. A couple of them said they were less sympathetic to Obama because he portrayed himself in a way unbefitting the leader of the free world. Another said she would was more sympathetic because it showed him as a “man of the people” and “just like the rest of us”.
Now clearly Obama is not “just like the rest of us” even if he does get wet standing in the rain without an umbrella. His position alone makes him exceptional, as does his wealth – and the wealth he will accumulate once he’s left office. His suspiciously smooth and successful political career makes him unlike the rest of us. He’s no more a man of the people than I am the King of Spain.
Obama’s no different from the majority of our leaders these days. They pop up on tv with their sleeves rolled up and ties off in hospitals, schools, factories, warehouses. Blair wasn’t the first Prime Minister to jump into the pantomime but he certainly played the people’s card with relish. What used to rile me most was his fake “I’m just having a mug of tea with the workers” image, lifting a mug – never a cup, please note – to his mouth, but with a strange, giveaway gesture in which the hand and forearm were held horizontally. It was a theatrical way of drinking, and always accompanied by a grin of disturbing inanity.
We have the PR people and the media to thank for the abomination of these set-pieces. The politicians are just as much to blame, however, for acquiescing in them, which they seem to do with pathetic ease. They’re all happy to treat us as children or simpletons: “Ooh look, kiddies, here’s Dave riding to his very important job on a bike. He really cares about the environment.”; or “yes, he knows about ordinary grub, he had a pasty in Leeds railway station once. A large one. What a piggy.”
You’d have thought that after William Hague’s preposterous attempt to paint himself as a macho man years ago, sporting a baseball cap and claiming that as a teenager he drank 14 pints of beer a day, they’d have realised there is a line beyond which everything becomes laughable. Unfortunately not.
It can only get worse.
The more disconnected politicians become from the rest of society and the less they understand about our lives the more they have to pretend they’re just like us. Even if it means standing in the rain with shirtsleeves rolled up.