President Obama on Tuesday appeared in an episode of “Between Two
Ferns,” actor Zach Galifianakis’ satirical talk show on the “Funny or
Die” web site. This was perhaps the boldest — or most outrageous –
example yet of the White House attempt to market the Affordable Care
Act to young people using nontraditional media.
The Pajama Boy ad for Obamacare? The use of the Doge Internet meme in
a blast e-mail urging health insurance sign-ups? Those were perhaps
conventional uses of media compared to this.
That’s because “Between Two Ferns” and Mr. Galifianakis are not “The
Tonight Show” and Jimmy Fallon. On the show Galifianakis apes a bored,
unprepared cable access host. With the president of the United States
on, the actor made sure to establish this tone right away.
“Sorry I had to cancel a few times last week,” Galifianakis said. “My
mouse pad broke. I had to get my great aunt some diabetes shoes.”
“No problem,” replied Obama. “When I heard that people actually watch
this show, I was pretty surprised.”
Galifianakis went on to ask a series of “questions,” such as what
Obama has planned for follow-up after pardoning a turkey for 2013, and
whether Hulk Hogan or Tonya Harding would be a better US envoy to
Obama replied in kind. They did a pretty good job of acting annoyed
with each other. At least, we assume it was acting.
“What’s it like to be the last black president?,” Galifianakis asked
at one point.
“What’s it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a
president?,” Obama shot back.
About half-way through the six-minute show, the president segued into
Obamacare after the host sighed and asked what his (Obama’s) plug was.
Obama made the points the White House is trying to emphasize with
young people — that health insurance costs less than their cell phone,
and that they are not invincible in terms of health problems.
“Did you say ‘invisible?,’” asked Galifianakis.
At the end, the set falls down, and it’s revealed that the show is
being taped in the Diplomatic Room at the White House. Galifianakis
said that’s where the show is always done.
“You’ve been filming here all these years, who gave you permission to
do that?,” asked Obama.
“Bush,” said the “Hangover” movie star.
Will this accomplish White House goals? That will be easier to answer
once final enrollment figures are in on March 31. If nothing else, the
appearance shows how hard the administration is trying to attract the
coveted young, healthier cohort of enrollees.
Some pundits enjoyed it.
“Best/Worst thing about #Obama’s schedule today is he’s already
peaked,” tweeted veteran National Journal reporter Ron Fournier.
“I like esoteric comedy as much as the next guy, but this is effective
outreach? POTUS has nothing better to do?”
tweeted Mark Hemingway, senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
Maybe not, in terms of larger political outreach. The administration’s
goal here could be selling the Democratic brand in general to young
people as much as the Affordable Care Act in particular.
After all, the youngest voters of the Millennial generation do not
lean Democratic, points out George Washington University political
scientist John Sides, in “The Monkey Cage” blog. In the 2012
presidential election, Mitt Romney won among voters age 18 to 20.
The explanation for this is that the political allegiance of
generations coming of voting age is determined by the economic and
political fundamentals of that time. And the youngest voters cast
their first ballot at a time when Obama’s overall approval rating is
“A booming economy and a popular president will push young people
toward the president’s party. A recession and an unpopular president
will push young people toward the opposite party,” writes Professor
In this context, the untraditional marketing methods for Obamacare
make sense on several levels. They may boost enrollment — and they may
win back some wavering voters before they become committed to the GOP.