Growing up, there were certain television personalities that were so familiar they seemed like family. Johnny Carson was one of these – I distinctly remember one of the few times I saw the Tonight Show when I was in elementary school, thinking that it wouldn’t be odd to run into Johnny Carson at one of my grandfather’s St. Patrick’s Day parties. I bet many people felt that way about Carson – and about Ronald Reagan, too, which as big a reason as anything for his political success.
That type of connection is hard to forge, and the bond is strong enough to withstand quite a bit of stress – which is why folks who wouldn’t otherwise agree with conservative policies voted for Reagan, and why Carson was the King of Late Night even if a joke fell flat now and then.
I thought of this when I read Judith Warner’s Friday blog post at the New York Times. Warner recounts several anecdotes from people who share that level of false familiarity with Barack Obama and his family. From folks who feel a jealous respect for Obama’s accomplishments to those that think about the activities of first family just a little too much, there’s a similar connection that Carson and Reagan enjoyed.
Immediately, this has ramifications on the debate over the stimulus package – the bipartisan opponents will have a better chance of defeating something if they can hang it on the “Democrats” in general rather than on a popular and apparently approachable President. Long term, it means that defeating one unpopular bill will not completely turn the tables, and that opponents of the President’s agenda won’t carry as much momentum from one victory into the next battle.
Even when Johnny Carson bombed, people still tuned in the next night, ready to laugh.