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Commentary: Will 'SNL' skit sink hopes for Obama?

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: "Saturday Night Live" highlighted unfulfilled Obama promises
  • He says "SNL" has history of shaping negative perceptions of presidents
  • He says Obama has burden of very high expectations for his presidency
  • Rollins says all of Obama's ambitions are fruitless if job losses mount
By Ed Rollins
CNN Senior Political Contributor
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Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Ed Rollins says "Saturday Night Live" satire has shaped images of presidents for the worse.

Ed Rollins says "Saturday Night Live" satire has shaped images of presidents for the worse.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Since its debut on October 11, 1975, "Saturday Night Live" has spoofed, ridiculed and hammered presidents and other political figures without regard to political affiliation or any other sensitivities.

The perfect parroting of Sarah Palin after her vice president nomination, by the immensely talented Tina Fey, started the downward spiraling of the governor. People started looking at her in a different light, and she was judged as a less serious candidate.

Saturday's skit portraying President Obama as a man who made a lot of promises and hasn't been able to fulfill many -- if any -- has been analyzed over and over with a constant rerun of the "SNL" clip.

In the comedy skit, the president is asked about unrealized campaign promises, including closing Gitmo, combating global warming, allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, withdrawing from Iraq, improving the status of the fight in Afghanistan, reforming health care and several others. On screen the response on a check list was: that each item was "not done."

Humor with some truth in it is always dangerous. Make no mistake, a drumbeat of belittlement can damage a president. See how 'SNL' has portrayed presidents »

President Gerald Ford, a gifted athlete, could never overcome the image of a bumbling, clumsy man who banged his head constantly after the hilarious portrayal of him by Chevy Chase. The senior Bush, George H.W., was brilliantly played by Dana Carvey, and more viewers remember our 41st president as the goofy, inarticulate caricature than as a serious man who served his country in many positions.

But the real question being debated on cable TV because of the "SNL" parody is this: "Has the media's love affair and honeymoon with President Obama ended?"

I can't answer that. I can say that President Obama is being judged with the same scrutiny as those who have gone before him in the modern era. Sooner or later, all honeymoons for presidents come to an end. This one may have lasted a little longer because many in the media got caught up in the story, in the history and wrote with their emotions instead of their computers.

In the few months President Obama has been in office, the following questions are being asked across the country by some Americans and the media, too: "Is he as good as we all hoped? Can he possibly meet the extraordinary high expectations that were set for him? Can he get the job done? Could anyone?"

Democrats will add pensively to the words: "Not Done" from the "SNL" skit, "Not yet."

Republicans would add assertively : "Not ever!"

Democrats are still hopeful this president will turn out to be the "Camelot II"; the new generational leader for whom they have waited decades and in some cases lifetimes. Many hope President Obama will be the new John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- with the legislative skills of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Republicans have no hope left about Obama. At best, they pray, for the good of the country that he's not as bad as Jimmy Carter.

But in reality, they see the man who campaigned as a centrist turning out to be the feared liberal who voted that way during his short Senate tenure. At a time of fiscal crisis, President Obama in their minds is turning into the biggest spender and taxer in history -- and they believe they must oppose him.

His campaign was brilliant, and he won against two inferior campaigns, though not necessarily inferior candidates. Both of those candidates are making major contributions to the governing process.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is getting high marks and certainly has been a loyal supporter of the president. John McCain has renewed his Senate career with intensity and has become a valuable asset to the loyal opposition.

Every president finds out that campaigning and governing are not the same thing. Governing is tough every day. Campaigning can be fun.

It's why some modern presidents want to keep doing it even after being elected. Reagan did it. Bill Clinton did it. George W. Bush did it. And this president likes to do it, and I am sure will continue to ride Air Force One from speech to speech, coast to coast.

Giving a good speech or making a great appearance on the campaign trail to adoring crowds is not the same as making the tough choices that President Obama needs to make every day alone in his Oval Office. No cheering there. Often in campaigns, promises are made that can't be kept once in office. After being elected, presidents find out the issues are more difficult the more they get to know about them.

Sometimes voters don't remember campaign promises and sometimes they don't care.

The "Saturday Night Live" skit left out one promise President Obama made and it wasn't a campaign promise. It was the promise that his $787 billion stimulus package would create 3.5 million new jobs.

If "SNL" had asked the question, the answer would be: Not Done! The job hasn't even been started. The United States is losing more jobs by the minute. Before we turn this economy around, job loss could reach 9 million in the past two years and unemployment could reach 10.5 percent.

This didn't happen all on his watch and a big chunk of the stimulus is not yet spent. But if we don't get Americans back to work, the other promises President Obama made will pale in importance. Focus on jobs, Mr. President.

The highest unemployment rate in 25 years is about real Americans all across this country who are hurting and depressed. That's a topic that's even "Saturday Night Live" can't joke about, because it's tragic. All Americans want to see this president succeed in getting that job done. iReport.com: 'SNL' won't hurt Obama

The president has made a lot of promises regarding health care reform, even though the final details of the bills are not known. Promises made as president do count;, far more than those as a candidate. And the president will be measured against them. He will be judged not in a skit on "Saturday Night Live" but by his fellow citizens at the voting booth.

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And it will be no laughing matter if they feel he misled them.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.

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