Somewhere between the parade of busty women in low-cut gold lame minidresses and contestants spinning the wheel, George Bush made a star turn.
"I'm thrilled to be on Deal or No Deal with you tonight," Bush said from a giant screen in a cameo taped for the Monday episode of one of NBC's most popular prime-time shows. The president paused a beat. "Come to think of it, I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days."
Elitism is to the 2008 campaign as communism was to 1950s politics: a career breaker. And pop TV is the antidote, a free platform to rub shoulders with viewers who only glancingly pay attention to the news.
Making nice on a cooking program or game show is the macropopulist equivalent of knocking down pins in a bowling alley in Altoona, Pa., or belting down Crown Royal whiskey in a bar in Crown Point, Ind., only better: the setting, be it Rachael Ray's kitchen or Howie Mandel's array of suitcases on Deal or No Deal, is as familiar as home to millions of viewers.
None of the presidential candidates want to be seen as snooty or overeducated, which must be why on Monday all three provided taped greetings to wrestling fans watching WWE Raw on the USA network.
Even a president can do a stint on a lowbrow entertainment show as long as it is cloaked in a dignified cause. The Deal or No Deal contestant Bush rooted for, Joe Kobes, is a decorated Army captain who served three tours in Iraq. Timing, however, matters. While it may be the first time a sitting president found it fitting to make fun of himself on a game show, that showstopper came at a moment when the Bush presidency is in eclipse.
The first lady, Laura Bush, is scheduled to be an NBC co-host today on Today, but she was outflanked by her would-be Republican successor, Cindy McCain, who was a guest co-host Monday of the View on ABC and shared some secrets about her husband. (Cindy McCain said that the man she calls "Johnny-Boy" loves horticulture and cooking and contrary to news reports does not have a "temper" problem.)
Michelle Obama, who stood up for her husband's common touch last week on the Colbert Report, tried to prove it by taping a segment of Rachael Ray alongside Barack Obama on Monday. The episode is expected to run in May.
Hillary Rodham Clinton performed a self-mocking skit on the Colbert Report last week (not to be confused with her self-mocking skit on Saturday Night Live on March 1) and agreed to appear on Larry King Live on CNN on Monday night. Obama accepted a seat, for the third time, on the Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
The novelty of politicians showing their lighter side on national television has begun to weigh heavily on the campaign season. The surprise lies not in who does which show, but who doesn't do them at all. At this point, only the pope has held out.