While the world waited for word on a referendum in Crimea and the whereabouts of a missing jet airliner, there was plenty of time last week to pick apart a comedy sketch starring Zach Galifianakis and the President of the United States. The brief Funny or Die “Between Two Ferns” segment, which Obama used to pimp Healthcare.gov, got a good deal of traffic, some of which, we were told, led to some Obamacare signups.
Rightbloggers may have been upset that the sketch did some good for Obamacare, which they still believe should be overturned. But mainly they complained that in making the video Obama, to whom they regularly refer as a tyrant (or a sissy, depending on the available news hooks), had demeaned the office of the Presidency.
Readers over a certain age will remember that in the 2008 Presidential campaign, one of the charges brought against Obama was that he was an empty suit propelled by mere celebrity, as an unfortunate McCain ad associating the Senator from Illinois with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton attempted to convey.
It didn’t work, as the alleged empty suit was elected, and charges of unseriousness wear even less well against sitting Presidents — though Karl Rove tried it again in 2012. In that same campaign season, Somebody at RedState listed all the TV shows on which Obama had appeared, e.g. “The View – Met with them instead of Benjamin Netanyahu who requested a meeting so he could be ‘eye candy’ for the female hosts,” and “SportsCenter – Every year for March Madness.” “Then think about whom some of his most ardent supporters have been, Hollywood celebrities,” cried Somebody. “Americans are supposed to take political advice from people who can’t articulate thoughts for themselves, but who choose to recite the words other people tell them to speak.” (This paired nicely with the brethren’s obsession with the teleprompter, a device used by previous Presidents but thought suggestive in Obama’s case of vacuity.)
Obama was nonetheless reelected, and continues to use his celebrity contacts as part of his communications, particularly in the White House counterattack on Obamacare. The Galifianakis interview was part of this, but seemed to provoke the brethren more than others. This may owe partly to the sluggish news week, but also to the President taking an active role in the comedy, trading ba-doom-booms with his comedian interlocutor. Even worse, people found it funny.
It must be said that some of the brethren took the sketch as a pleasant diversion rather than as yet another occasion for outrage. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze at least enjoyed Galifianakis’ zingers on Obama. Others, like Rare, just admitted it was funny. “Barack Obama and Zach Galifianakis just won the Internet,” said Rare; “Collectivists assert that society is a creation of the legislator’s genius and magically exists apart from the individuals who comprise it,” replied its only commenter at this writing.
But that was the minority opinion. You probably heard the complaints of Rush Limbaugh (“if you wonder why people are losing respect for the president — and I think people are. I think what’s happening here is actually devastating to the office”) and Bill O’Reilly (“All I can tell is you Abe Lincoln would not have done it”). This attitude disseminated further down the chain, sometime in more imaginative forms.
When the White House revealed that “http://FunnyorDie.com is the #1 source of referrals to http://HealthCare.gov right now,” the Washington Examiner‘s Ashe Schow offered the co-stars career counseling: “Not sure that’s something for the administration to brag about,” he wrote. “But for Galifianakis, it’s certainly brag-worthy, although maybe he won’t want to play it up, considering the unpopularity of the law.” Maybe follow up with an inspirational drama? It worked for Sandra Bullock!
At libertarian flagship Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown took a that’s-not-funny-that’s-sick approach.
Brown related one of the gags: “‘Healthcare.gov works great now, and millions of Americans have already gotten health insurance plans,’ says Obama (in one of the video’s more humorous bits). Then Galifianakis, feigning boredom, asks, ‘Is this what they mean by drones?’ Zing! Get it? Because the Obama administration kills innocent people with drones? And now Obama is droning on? AHAHAHA–wait. That is not really very funny at all. In fact, it seems kind of sociopathic to joke about.”
Now aren’t you ashamed for laughing? Brown was similarly unamused when the President parried a Galifianakis gibe about the NSA (“Zach, nobody’s interested in your texts”). “Of course, the National Security Agency is not only interested in Zach’s texts but the text messages of millions of others, too,” she sniffed. “…When you remember what kind of civil liberty abuses the Obama administration is perpetrating, it’s kind of hard to be amused, even between two ferns.” One can only imagine what Brown thinks of Springtime for Hitler.
Others were outraged that Obama took time out from his duties to do the sketch instead of clearing brush at a ranch like a real President.
“Crimea is on the brink of being annexed into the Russian federation, unemployment numbers showed an uptick in February,” groused Independent Journal Review’s Caroline Schaeffer, “and the President is appearing with celebrities and doing whatever he wants while still hung up on trying to promote – not fix – his signature program, Obamacare,” Still, her headline showed something to be grateful for: “Doing the Job the Media Won’t: Comedian Zach Galifianakis Hits Obama with Hardest Interview of the Year.”
“The economy continues to sink, the world burns, and Barack Obama has the perfect solution: he spends time shooting a comedy routine with ‘Hangover’ star Zach Galifianakis, to pimp the faltering ObamaCare on ‘young Americans,'” hystericized Debbie Schlussel. “…Can this guy defile the Presidency anymore than he already has?”
“Health care is important, of course, but, I repeat, he’s the leader of the free world, parts of which are under siege,” bemoaned Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post before repeating some of the gags from the sketch which she affected not to understand: “I did find myself smiling, though probably at the wrong things. I’ll never tell.” (?) “But like most people older than 30, I also wondered whether this was an appropriate venue for the president, especially in consideration of current events.” We wonder how many people in their thirties actually feel this way; maybe Parker has an old-fashioned idea of 30somethingness.
The Daily Caller’s Giuseppe Macri took the trouble to fact-check the comedy sketch. Obama said Obamacare premiums are about the same as your cell phone bill. Aha! “The cheapest bronze plan on the D.C. health insurance exchange has a $124.05 monthly premium — still almost 70 percent more expensive than the average wireless service bill,” reported Macri. We expect Darrell Issa to make a filing to the Internet Crime Complaint Center next. Who’s laughing now, funny man?
At the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby solemnly informed readers that eternal centrist David Gergen did not approve of the sketch. “You know things are bad when even former Clinton loyalists think Obama is demeaning his office,” said Jacoby. This was italicizable because Clinton didn’t measure up to Jacoby’s standards of Presidential deportment, either: “When Clinton, on MTV in 1994, was asked if he wears ‘boxers or briefs,’ he should have responded with an icy stare, and turned to another questioner,” Jacoby reminisced. “Instead, grinning, he revealed his underwear preference,” and the Eagle wept.
“That crossed a line that should have been inviolable,” continued Jacoby, “degrading not only Clinton but the respect owed to the presidency. Fourteen years later, when the same question was posed to candidate Obama, he knew better than to dignify it with a substantive response. ‘I don’t answer those humiliating questions,’ he replied. He should have said exactly the same thing when he was asked to go on Galifianakis’s insult-slinging interview show.” A promise betrayed! We await Obama’s blowjob/impeachment.
Conservative intellectual Jonah Goldberg devoted two posts to the comedy sketch. In his first, he said, “I’m a bit torn. I don’t fret overly about the dignity of the presidency.” On the one hand, Clinton got his dick sucked and, contra Jacoby, “that didn’t stop Clinton from being popular, never mind permanently damage the institution.” On the other hand, “Obama sometimes seems more concerned with his own cult of personality than he does with the prestige of the office or the mechanisms traditionally at its disposal.” The proof of this was that Obama continues to use his campaign mailing lists to promote causes he believes in “rather than the agenda of the party,” which Goldberg apparently finds unseemly.
Goldberg was disturbed by the reported success of the sketch as well: “It says something sad about the audience Obama is reaching out to,” he sighed. “After all, if millions actually do sign up as a result (which I highly doubt), it would mean that there are millions of young people out there who couldn’t be persuaded by billions of words in newspapers, magazines, State of the Union addresses, and news broadcasts, but they are persuaded by a hipster webcast comedy show. That doesn’t really speak well of them — or the country generally.” Imagine, being more attentive to a funny video than to the sort of venues in which Jonah Goldberg regularly appears.
The next day Goldberg returned to the subject. “I think the real issue isn’t whether it was dignified, but whether it was small,” he now judged. “…I’ve talked to a lot of older folks (and not just conservatives) about the skit in the last 24 hours and it’s a bit of a surprise how many of them just didn’t get the premise, didn’t think any of it was funny, and thought the whole thing was kind of pathetic.” Old people didn’t get a Zach Galifianakis sketch! Goldberg anticipated that some of us would be left unmoved by this sad truth: “No doubt the hip — and the desperate-to-seem-hip — media class will wave away such concerns,” he said. The media class has got it in for oldsters, see, which is why they’re all for death panels and web videos that geezers don’t like.
At Commentary Michael Auslin conflated the comedy sketch in with other recent celebrity-Obama pairings — including “an interview with someone named Ryan Seacrest about [Obama’s] ‘mom jeans'” — and perorated about Crimea and Obamacare before coming to a point at which he might have been wise to stop writing: “Perhaps [Obama] is cunning like a fox,” said Auslin. “He continues to look hip and cool, and pundits like me spend some part of our day talking about his actions as opposed to his policies.”
The moment passed: “Or, perhaps he is desperate, as many conservatives want to believe,” Auslin resumed. “…Maybe he is just disengaged, unaware of what is important and what is not… Or perhaps Barack Obama is simply the manifestation of a continuing and alarming decline in our political culture,” and from thence to Clinton playing the saxophone on TV, “the modern equivalent of bread and circuses,” o tempera o brother.
At TruthReport, Ben Shapiro said there was a lesson in all this. “Conservatives must understand that culture is the lifeblood of politics,” he demanded. “Most Republicans have no idea what Funny or Die is, let alone why people watch it. BuzzFeed is a dirty word to most conservatives, even though their sons and daughters read it regularly for its cat lists — and some of them stay for the leftist politics.”
Assuming Shapiro meant for conservatives to use this “culture” thing to sway BuzzFed youths, rather than for them to try and get rid of it somehow, he may be onto something. TruthRevolt itself chronicles some ways in which this is already being done, e.g., “Report: Sarah Palin Plans Digital Channel ‘Rogue TV,'” and “Tattooed Ted Cruz Posters Pop Up in L.A.” Well, it’s a start. And while the generators of conservative culture get up to speed, the brethren can just keep telling people about the corrupt Washington/Hollyweird axis, and see how far that gets them.