Should anyone be surprised to learn that Barack Obama is a fan of Mad Men? It seems exactly right that this most cerebral of presidents would gravitate toward this most cerebral of television entertainments, with its glamorous Kennedyesque milieu, heightened awareness of social issues, and keen ear for office politics. There's a lot there for him to identify with.
Like the White House, Sterling Cooper (soon to be Sterling Cooper Draper Price) is a workplace in which ideas serve as the coin of the realm. The stakes could not be more different -- war and oil spills versus Aquanet and Lucky Strikes -- but in other ways the gigs run parallel. It hardly needs saying that both Washington and Madison Avenue are consumed with selling the public. Some of the products are necessary, while others we neither want nor can afford.
As America's leading man, Barack Obama shares a number of key personality traits with leading Mad-Man Don Draper. Both are chess players, with a talent for staying several jumps ahead of the opposition -- or at least appearing to. Neither gives up anything more than he has to, especially in the emotional department. Each invariably comes across as the smartest guy in the room.
Yet Don Draper is blessed with a gift that Obama can only dream of: a Teflon coating that allows him to maneuver his professional realm with papal infallibility. Draper remains answerable to no one. Rarely do his peers dare to criticize him, almost never to his face. If the urge strikes, he is free to vacate the office for weeks at a time to think things through. Like Obama, Draper finds himself in the enviable position of having the job he was put on this earth to have; unlike Obama, there's nobody trying to stop him from doing it.
Obama might want to take a few lessons from Don Draper, especially when it comes to successfully delivering a persuasive message. Where Obama appeals to the nation's intelligence, Draper goes for the gut. Obama is far more willing to humor his intellectual inferiors than Draper, and less inclined to cast aside bad old ideas in favor of bold new ones. We can be pretty sure that President Don Draper would have kicked a lot more Republican ass than President Barack Obama has.
But Draper could pick up a few pointers from Obama as well. Where Draper contrives to bury his tangled past, the president learned early on to embrace and capitalize upon the complexities of his own narrative. As a human being, Obama is a far better role model; on the question of family values the two names can't even be spoken in the same breath.
Facile comparisons aside, Mad Men undoubtedly gives Barack Obama the same thing it gives the rest of its aficionados: challenging, grown-up, addictive entertainment. For fans whose fondness borders on the obsessive, it is fun to think that on the 25th of July, the president of the United States may be glued to the set just like the rest of us, eager to plunge into Season Four.