Here is one of Rush Limbaugh’s critiques of Barack Obama:
We have 9.8% unemployment. Administration officials say three to four months more of this, maybe, and then we’re gonna start seeing jobs added. I thought Obama had saved 23 million jobs! I thought he and Biden had saved all these jobs. Now the administration, well, three or four more months, and maybe we’ll have some job growth. We hope. Obama demeaned the office of the presidency going on this sales pitch for Chicago’s corrupt profiteering. Everybody knows what this was about: Corruption and patronage on a grander scale than ever before. That was the opportunity Mayor Daley and everybody saw and they sent Obama off to secure it. And I’ll tell you another reason he decided to go, not just because Daley sent him but Obama needed to distract everybody’s attention from his massive failures at home and abroad.
Ignore for a moment the argument Rush Limbaugh presents. Instead, look at his use of “Obama” and “Biden.” Limbaugh does not say “President Obama” or “Mr. Obama” – he just uses plain-old “Obama.”
It’s a lot easier to criticize Obama rather than Mr. Obama. The addition of “Mr.” or “President” elevates the man, implies that he is deserving of respect. Taking away the title relegates him to the rest of us mere mortals.
This pattern of referring to high officials (it’s far from an Obama-only phenomenon) without a title is not just the domain of right-wingers. It’s prevalent throughout cable news and the online web. CNN does it. Politico does it. Markos Zúñiga (founder of the Daily Kos) does it. I do it. In fact, I’ve been doing it throughout this entire post.
The only media organizations that consistently add the honorific “Mr.” or “President/Senator/Governor” to a politician seem to be newspapers. This New York Times article, for example, addresses Hillary Clinton as “Mrs. Clinton” without fail.
The casualness with which American media refers to political figures reflects a wider paradigm. It feels itself to be on the same level (or even a higher level) than all politicians. American officials are to be evaluated on a grade-scale, their every action analyzed for hidden motives.
America’s leaders are many things to the media establishment. They are characters of immense curiosity, interesting enough to power many a media cycle. They are fodder for pundits and comedians to laugh at, criticize, and tear down. They are sometimes figures to be empathized with, just normal people with a loving families and beautiful children.
The only thing they are not, it seems, are leaders.