Obama's cheapest pop-culture reference

That time that Mad Men cracked the State of the Union address

Charles Dharapak/AP

“It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong  in a Mad Men episode.” —U.S. President Barack Obama, during the 2014 State of the Union address

The best presidential speeches are timeless—rooted in history and tethered to events, sure, but never dated. Americans often recall the day that lived in infamy at Pearl Harbor, their first Catholic president’s stirring appeal to think not of what their country can do for them, and their aging cold warrior’s forceful request that a longtime foe tear down a wall in Berlin. Historians need not remind most Americans of their presidents’ finest moments. Those rhetorical flourishes, so treasured in posterity, will live forever.

President Barack Obama has a way with words that helped him get elected not once, but twice. Last night, he strode into the U.S. Capitol, stood in front of a joint session of Congress, and told Americans and the world about the state of his union. He spoke of fixing Washington, and getting Americans back to work, and achieving energy independence, and spending more on education. Obama urged employers across the nation to stop paying women less than men for doing the same job, a passionate plea for pay equity.

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal  work.  She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship—and you know what, a father does, too,” he said. And then, with a flourish, Obama asked the employers of the nation to dig deep. “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong  in a Mad Men episode.” Laughter from those assembled. Chuckles, surely, from the nation’s living rooms. The pop culture reference was folksy, in its own way, and made clear that the president knows what’s popular on TV. But imagine, years from now, when a young student cracks open a history book and recalls the defining speech of 2014.

No way in hell would JFK have called for renewed civic duty by reminding his people of the goodness of Andy Griffith. Ronald Reagan, an actor though he may have been, wouldn’t have piggybacked on MacGyver‘s American-bred ingenuity as he eviscerated the Communist regime he so despised.

Obama made just a single Mad Men reference, it’s true. The pop-culture appeal won’t define his tenure, not even close, and the pay-equity fight will outlive this speech’s memory. But the man who roused a nation simply by opening his mouth has lost much of that rhetorical prowess. Now, he resorts to pop culture. Madison Avenue’s finest admen would be hard-pressed to sell that speech.


Globe: President Barack Obama will raise the federal minimum wage without Congress.

Post: Canada should consider the annexation of Turks and Caicos.

Star: Canada’s interim privacy commissioner wants more oversight of spy agencies.

Citizen: Chantal Bernier also wants spy agencies to change how they collect data.

CBC: Carl Campeau escaped eight months of imprisonment at the hands of al-Qaeda.

CTV: A snowstorm rocked the American deep south, and led to chaos on the roads.

NNW: Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq attended a reception in her honour.


Near: A former oil lobbyist consulted on the future of scientific research lakes in Ontario.

Far: Police officers in the Philippines allegedly used a “wheel of torture” to punish prisoners.

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