Obama's FunnyOrDie Sketch Proves There Are Other Ways to Push Ideas in Beyond Fear and Anger
If you haven't seen President Obama's appearance on "Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis," stop everything you're doing and watch it now.
There is a lesson to be learned from this video: Fear and anger aren't the only effective methods for spreading a political message.
Obama's right-wing opponents have spent the bulk of his presidency trying to destroy him with shrill accusations, inflammatory rhetoric and hyperbolic distortions of his agenda. The fact that these critics are so often wrong is less important here than the simple reality that they are so overwhelmingly, hysterically vitriolic. But this time, Obama responded with laughter.
The backlash: As is the case with any group that has grown accustomed to vexation, this comedy is not sitting well with right-wingers. On this morning's edition of Fox & Friends, this exchanged played out:
KILMEADE: "It is so inappropriate ... for the president of the United States to be sitting down for an interview that's a mock-up."
HASSELBECK: "Some would argue that it's inappropriate for the president of the United States to be advertising a law, an insurance plan."
KILMEADE: "I think it's pretty tragic. Whoever recommended that he do that show should be fired."
This was followed shortly after by some aggressive tweeting from Fox News host Martha MacCallum and Kilmeade.
Of course conservative pundit Laura Ingraham weighed in as well:
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative newspaper, also shared their two-cents, saying: "The Obama interview, however, was just dreadful. After a few semi-unbearable moments during which the president shows he doesn't at all understand the point of the show--the guest is not supposed to get in good zingers; he's supposed to be taken down a peg--there's an utterly unbearable moment during which he hawks the failed social experiment that is HealthCare.gov. It's just gross."
Since these conservatives are predictably determined to make this yet another low point for Obama, here's a simple explanation of why they're wrong.
There are two layers to the comedy in the six-and-a-half minute sketch. The first is consistent with the main joke of "Between Two Ferns" where Galifianakis displays open disdain and hostility toward his guests. As such, Galifianakis flaunted his lack of deference, from shushing Obama at the start of the interview to claiming that people let him win at basketball because he's president.
The political benefits to Obama were obvious: By allowing Galifianakis to poke fun at him, Obama displayed the self-confidence of someone comfortable being ribbed, and by giving as good as he got (which, contrary to the Washington Free Beacon's complaint, is part of the format, as comedians Tina Fey and Steve Carell demonstrated in their appearances), he made it clear that he had a sense of humor.
Along with the usual "Funny or Die" shtick, however, Obama and Galifianakis also poked fun at some of today's more absurd right-wing criticism. This started with Galifianakis assuming the clueless Obama-hating jerk persona, taking shots at birtherism and the "Obama is un-American" crowd. But as the interview progressed, instead of simply lampooning the right-wing, Galifianakis's jokes — in particular about the glitchy Affordable Care Act website — became more biting with some legitimacy behind them. Obama, in turn, calmly acknowledged the health care website's past flaws before describing how, hiccups notwithstanding, the Affordable Care Act has and will continue to help million of American as they continue to enroll. In so doing, the president not only presented a brilliantly straightforward defense of his health care bill, but used his cool-headed response to Galifianakis's jabs to demonstrate that even when a criticism is valid, it doesn't have to be approached with histrionics.
It isn't surprising that most conservatives aren't picking up on any of this. While this could be dismissed as simply one more occasion of stubborn partisanship causing a political group to "not get" a joke, it speaks to something far more tragic. If the mantra of Republicans like Abraham Lincoln was that "I laugh because I must not cry," the attitude of the GOP today is that they've forgotten how to laugh ... and crying is all they have left.
If you have yet to do so, make sure to enroll for health insurance at healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596.