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Brace yourself: Here comes Prime-time Obama again

A consensus is starting to build that says so far, Barack Obama has been a lot better at playing a president on TV than actually being one in 2009.

Maybe it is the arrival of the holidays and the inescapable realization that our president has seemed to be mostly indifferent to the millions of Americans who are out of work and can't even start to think of holiday cheer. While the White House has been focused in recent months on such misguided campaigns as trying to beat Fox News into submission for daring to criticize him, more and more Americans are wondering why the president hasn't heard their growing cries of desperation. That's what the intensity and outrage of the town halls were really about during the summer. But the tin ears in the administration didn't hear it. They were too busy booking the president on every talk show on television -- as long as it wasn't on Fox News.

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I am thinking of all this as President Obama launches another prime-time PR effort  Tuesday night with a speech on Afghanistan. We will be seeing a lot of him on the tube in coming days straight through to his TV special with Oprah Winfrey, "Christmas from the White House" on ABC on Dec. 13. This week, the president with the fralling poll numbers will also be starring in a jobs related "summit" and a tour of "Main Street" -- all the better to show, of course, through the use of TV words and images how concerned the president now is about the unemployed.

Forget the "No-Drama Obama" name the president's PR-oriented aides talked about a year ago to stress how cool and focused the candidate had been under fire during the campaign. I say a more apt name today is Prime-Time Obama, the president who never met a TV booking he wouldn't grab when the going got rough -- rather than getting down and dirty with the grunt work of trying to govern the nation out of its pain.

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Cool, elegant, glib and detached is nice for a latenight TV chat with Jay Leno or David Letterman -- not so nice for crafting and forging support for a real jobs package that will put real people to work rather than the questionable numbers Vice President Joe Biden has been attributing to the stimulus money.

Don't blame me on this one, folks. I have been saying this since early in the year, and generally catching hell for it even from some of my colleagues. After warning that Obama was the most effective TV president this side of Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy, I wrote several pieces saying that talking about governing on TV was different than actually governing.

Back in March, I wrote that I wished President Obama had more Lyndon Johnson in him -- one of the worst TV presidents in history with his awkward, ill at ease and sometimes angry-sounding presentation.

Here is what I wrote:

Read the full post here.

On June 17, under a headline, "Time for TV press to quit being used by Obama," I wrote:

I knew this new TV blitz was coming when I saw the sinking Gallup poll numbers for President Obama last week. For the first time, he no longer has a majority of Americans who approve of his job performance (49 percent). In the Obama White House, when the going gets tough, the tough get more air time.

Maybe, going on TV makes Team Obama feel better about all that the administration is not accomplishing. But I somehow don't think seeing President Obama on TV this holiday season is going to mean too much to those people who have lost their jobs this year, or to those who are lying awake nights wondering if they are going to be the next ones laid off.  Cool, glib and detached is nice for chatting with billionaire talkshow hosts like Oprah, not so nice for people who have been cut from the workaday herd and fear they will never find steady employment again.

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