Obama's Life Is Filled with 'Mad Men' Characters

Whether metaphorical or literal, President Obama's life is filled with the vintage characters of the little-watched but widely-praised AMC series Mad Men


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Whether metaphorical or literal, President Obama's life is filled with the vintage characters of the little-watched but widely-praised AMC series Mad Men.

The co-mingling of the media's favorite small screen drama and America's commander-in-chief is the direct result of the president's genuine fascination with the '60s throwback series, he watches it on the campaign trail, and the press's eagerness to insert the show's plot lines into dry horse race narratives.

This week, a review of David Maraniss's new biography of the president revealed that Obama likens the life of copy writer Peggy Olson to his real-life grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who ascended from bank secretary to bank vice president. "That's my grandmother, you know, starting out with the low-level secretary job and working her way up," Obama told Maraniss.  Olson, of course, defies all odds at the fictional ad firm Sterling Cooper Draper Price as she goes toe-to-toe with the show's chauvinistic, hard-drinking characters. "That's where you started noticing her alcoholism," Obama said of his grandmother, mentioning that she would come home at night, "exhausted from work, tightly wound and go into her room." He said the show's heavy drinking (e.g. Don's four martinis at lunch), "explains my grandparents, their tastes."

Of course, if his grandmother is Peggy Olson, his arch-nemesis is Don Draper. That, at least, is the view of his re-election campaign, which has associated the bland Mormon candidate with Jon Hamm's drinking, cheating, charismatic ad-making Don Draper, with the help of Politico. Months ago, Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod said Romney "must watch Mad Men and think it's the evening news," in a pointed criticism that Romney would usher in a social agenda from the 1950's. Politico scribes Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman pegged it "The Draperizing of Mitt Romney." "Democrats, despite the potential perils of such a strategy, remain determined to paint Romney as a throwback to the Mad Men era," they wrote, "a hopelessly retro figure who, on policy and in his personal life, is living in the past."

It was a rather reaching attempt to associate the two men but no less contrived than a recent segment of The Chris Matthews Show. In a parody of the show's intro, the show revised Don Draper as Barack Obama, with all the presidents 2012 election struggles cascading past him in the backdrop of music similar to RJD2's Mad Men theme.  "The silhouette was recreated to match President Obama's profile (emphasis on his ears, and the fact that Obama is seemingly slimmer than the Draper outline we're used to," said the show's producer, Will Rabbe in March.
So the narrative is bit strained but perhaps not totally uncalled for given the president's earnest infatuation with the show. In a literal sense, the show's characters surround him all the time as he reportedly uses the series to unwind. (New York Times reporter David Leonhardt catching him with DVDs of the series on his plane in 2008 was just the beginning.) After season 3 aired, President Obama sent Mad Men creator Matt Wiener a personal letter raving about the show. "He wrote to say he enjoyed Season 3," Weiner told TV Guide while "giggling in disbelief" in 2010. "He was congratulating me on my and the show's success, and I wanted to say, 'But wait, you're the successful person.'" We're not sure where this game of Mad Men meets Washington will go next, but we'll go ahead and say raunchy ad exec Roger Sterling is essentially Joe Biden. Sure, Biden doesn't drink and isn't an ad man but let's not have that stop us: He's old and says inappropriate things sometimes. Done!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.