Tag Archives: Barack Obama

The president is funny; Obamacare enrollments climb

If you haven’t seen President Barack Obama’s appearance on a spoof video interview with Zach Galifianakis, stop what you’re doing and spend the next 6 minutes and 30 seconds to watch the presidential communication norms evolve. The president appeared on the comedian’s web show, “Between Two Ferns,” in an effort to reach a target audience to generate health care enrollments.

If the White House is to be believed, the move did just what it intended. For one thing, I think most people believe the interview is genuinely funny. Obama plays a good straight man to Galifianakis’ ridiculous character, but he gets in some obviously prepared jabs, too. He’s funny. More importantly to the White House is that hits on healthcare.gov spiked after the skit was published. According to Politico, hits on the site coming directly from Funnyordie.com were around 32,000 by 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday. That’s not enrollments, but that’s where enrollments start. And it’s very likely coming from just the market health care reform supporters want.

While this does show the president venturing into new territory, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. Television itself was a revolution when John F. Kennedy bested Richard Nixon in the first televised debate in 1960. Of course, they were candidates and the tone was serious. But Nixon wasn’t so serious in September 1968 when he asked, “Sock it to me?” on Laugh In. In the Nixon video linked here George Schlatter says Nixon was trying to reach a new audience. Here’s the real clip of Nixon’s foray into comedy.

Different presidents have tried different tacks to woo new audiences or to offer a message. Jimmy Carter wore sweaters and carried suitcases. Reagan, I’m not the first to point out, was a master performer. One of my liberal friends in college used to say that Reagan, as president, was a great actor. Clinton went on MTV, which was groundbreaking at the time. He was just cool enough to do it. I can’t tell you what the Bushes did, but one of them got elected twice so he did something right. I don’t think George W. or Laura Bush would do the kind of appearances Barack and Michelle Obama have done. Their styles are different, but the Obamas are fairly well suited to take advantage of the way the media is changing. Michelle Obama had what I thought was a funny appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, because she could play within the strength of Fallon’s style. He is not the best interviewer, but he is noted for his skits, which then go viral. Again, this wasn’t just about being funny, Michelle Obama was there to pitch exercise.

In an age when many Americans get their news from The Daily Show, it’s not a bad approach to getting out the message. It may not be the ideal reality that more viewers are getting their news from a comedian than any other source, but it is the reality we have. So if a president has what it takes to enter this arena, then more power to him, and someday her.

Grateful to be privileged

We all have a lot to be grateful for here. By “here” I mean whatever you want it to mean.

On Sunday I got to do something that comes as a benefit of doing this job. There was no particular news value to going to watch Air Force One land in Seattle and to see the President Barack Obama come off the plane. My attendance at the event probably didn’t add anything special for the people of Kitsap County who I write for. Joel Connelly of the Seattle P-I and Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times will be writing the local stuff for the Seattle market, telling what they can about President Obama’s visit. All I got to do was go out and film his arrival. In fact, by the time you read this he will probably have already left.

So why did I go?

Because I can.

I’m a sort of political geek. I’m not the best at poly sci trivia or guessing from one strategy to the next, but there’s something about governance and the quest for it that intrigues me. And when you’re the kind of political nerd I am, being able to see a president is akin to owning a Ken Griffey rookie card.

On Friday I got an email inviting me to go attend the president’s arrival. I usually ignore those things, for the reasons above. There is nothing for Kitsap County residents that I can necessarily get at one of those events. That was especially true today, because he wasn’t even greeted by anyone local, not even Gov. Jay Inslee, whose permanent home is on Bainbridge Island. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, our congressman, wasn’t there either. For $16,000 you might have been able to go see him speak at a couple of wealthy Democrats’ homes over on the other side of the water.

For reasons I still haven’t processed when I got this email I decided to ask my bosses if I could go. I got the OK and sent my RSVP.

There is some rationale for making the trek that does have some bearing on residents of Kitsap County. I make the case that most residents of Washington don’t have any less access to the information they want and need than I do. We reporters learn how to get at information quicker, but generally you have just as much right to see it as we do.

This, however, was not a public event. They invited media. And I have a hunch that there are a few hundred people in Kitsap County who if given the opportunity to go do something as simple as I did, filming the arrival of the president, would jump at it. Furthermore, they might even be upset at the likes of me for continually ignoring those invites. So to some degree, some of what I did today was for them.

Don’t accuse me of overstating that. I went for my own benefit. Before Sunday I had seen three candidates who would become president, but never an actual president (Unless you count kind of seeing Ronald Reagan through the windows of his limousine on a dark night). Well, now that I went on Sunday, I can no longer say that. It was kind of important to me. I’m nerdy that way. As we approach Thanksgiving on Thursday, I’m thankful that I now have had the opportunity I had today, that we live in a place where this privilege exists and that I have the job that I do.

Defending the undecided voter

It’s time to offer up another lukewarm defense for someone who didn’t ask to be defended. I did it before for Bruce Danielson. This time I’m sticking up for the undecided voter.

It is a timely defense, because Tuesday’s presidential debate questions come from those who haven’t committed to voting for Barack Obama’s re-election or Mitt Romney’s challenger bid. Saturday Night Live did a great skit about undecided voters, a mock-commercial that sums up many of our thoughts about people who have not yet made a choice. I’ll post the video at the end.

As further evidence against the non-committal types I found a site that purported to show who undecided voters are. In some cases it’s not pretty. They have less education, less money, little in retirement savings, are more likely to be unemployed, less likely to be married but more likely to have kids living with them in homes they don’t own.

Given the swing in poll numbers since the first debate, I can see why some in America are troubled that it’s on these people that the election hinges.

But I’m going to suggest, with no evidence whatsoever, that there may be a significant segment of undecided America that is thoughtful, perhaps even quantifiably liberal or conservative, who have yet to make a decision. Allow me to offer some examples. They’re hypothetical, but I bet you could find people who fit this category.

The Ronulan or Libertarian: Ron Paul supporters were asked to be good little soldiers and support the Republican banner carrier, even though they were hosed at the Republican National Convention when they had their last chance to make a meaningful stand. It’s not what happened at the convention, though, that makes them undecided. Sure, they probably like Romney’s economic policies better. But he might not go far enough their direction, and Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements about how engaged America should be might frighten them. It’s not that they like what Obama has done, but it might the preferable option of the two candidates who have a chance to win. Same goes for backers of the actual Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson who nonetheless don’t want to see a vote wasted. The waffling may be a question of which policy position matters more.

The sad liberal: Many liberals rejoiced when Obama was elected and created unrealistic expectations they should have known to temper. He said all along he would listen to everyone. Whether he did or not is an argument conservatives would like to contest, but nonetheless what Obama put forward were not bigtime liberal solutions, most notably on financial regulations, the economic stimulus and health care reform. First off, any stimulus at all leans liberal, I’ll grant you that. But the one that got through was not nearly as large as the most liberal suggested it needed to be. Furthermore, much of it was tax cuts that you and I are still getting. The 2 percent payroll tax cut has never gone away. On financial reform anyone can see that loud as many will complain about Dodd-Frank, some of the complaints are that it didn’t go far enough. He didn’t force banks to break themselves up into smaller pieces, and he didn’t nationalize any. On health care reform you have to know liberals wanted universal health care, with the government acting as the national insurance company. Instead he championed a program that required everyone to get insurance, which made it possible to get other reforms in place and ensured that insurers had more customers. So, a liberal disappointed on so many fronts might be considering voting for Romney, hoping that his performance will be so bad that a new liberal candidate could have a chance in 2016.

The pragmatist: A liberal pragmatist might have voted for Kerry in 2004, but when the economy tanked was glad his guy didn’t win that year, ushering in the age of Obama. That person might conclude four more years of Obama would be bad for liberals generally. A conservative pragmatist may dislike Romney enough, for whatever reason, that the thought of him becoming president for possibly eight years seems worse than living with Obama for four more. And there are those who are middle-of the-road pragmatists, who just want someone who can make the country work better.

Of course, the Saturday Night Live image is more fun, but I wouldn’t put these people in the “likely voter” category.

POTUS pool report ends on a sexy note

When there is limited press availability for certain events we resort to pool reports. It’s one occasion where competing news organizations cooperate with each other. One reporter gets assigned to cover the event and share notes with other press outlets. I loved the one we got from Thursday’s visit by President Obama. Read it and afterward I’ll share some other stuff about pool reports. Today’s report comes from Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times.

At Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, Pres. was introduced by Suzanne Black, a biology teacher at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore.

Ms. Black related how she was diagnosed in Mar. 2005 with stage 4 ovarian cancer. “Instead of writing tests or grading them I found myself facing one of the toughest of my life,” she said. After a long stint of chemotherapy she got a letter from insurer saying she’d already used about three fourths of her $1m lifetime cap of insurance benefits.

Three weeks later Obama signed the health care law, ending those caps. “So today I realized my dream of being able to say to someone who truly represents us — or as my students would say — someone who has my back President Obama – thank you.”

The President entered to a standing ovation and lengthy applause from the crowd of 2000. He called Black’s story the kind of thing you “don’t read in newspapers.” He recognized most of the Democratic electeds on hand, including “soon to be Governor Jay Inslee.”

Like in his earlier speech, the president did not lead with gay marriage – he spoke mostly of the economy and the contrast between him and Republican Mitt Romney.

Pres. introduced Romney as “a patriotic American” who has raised a “wonderful family.” POTUS said Romney should “be proud of the success he’s had as CEO of a large financial firm” — drawing snickers from the crowd. But, POTUS said, Romney assumes that when CEOs get rich “the rest of us automatically do too.”

POTUS mocked Republicans as offering nothing new “There is nothing you’ve heard from them where you said ‘man, I didn’t think of that – that’s fresh, that’s new.”

Sticking to a theme of “moving forward,” POTUS contrasted his plans to spend money on infrastructure and education with the Republicans, who he said would rather just give tax cuts to the rich.

Finally, more than 22 minutes into the speech, POTUS got to the reddest (locally raised, grass fed) meat for the liberal crowd, declaring he would not “go backwards” on health care reform and abortion rights.

And he directly endorsed Washington’s gay marriage law, taking sides in the likely Nov vote on Ref 74. Pres. told the crowd: “We are moving forward to a country where every American is treated with dignity and respect, and here in Washington you’ll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly.”

Much applause ensued.

After the half-hour speech, POTUS and motorcade zipped back south on I-5 to Boeing Field, and Air Force One lifted off just after 4 p.m. for California and the fundraiser at George Clooney’s house. I am told he is an actor who is sexy.

If you’re like me, it’s the ending that got me the most. I also liked the parenthetical comment within “red meat.”

Being with the Kitsap Sun, one of the smaller press outlets in the Puget Sound region, I’ve pretty much accepted that I probably won’t be invited to be the pool reporter at something like what we had today, a sitting U.S. President campaigning or visiting the area. If he comes to Bremerton it might be different, but as much as I’d love to do it, I’m not getting the nod for anything in Seattle. We do sometimes fight for that role when there is a particular local angle, but this occasion was not one of those.

I did get an invite to go see Air Force One land and take off. I would have loved to have done that. But it would have been the equivalent of journalism tourism. I saw the plane anyway. I saw a Tweet that the plan was taxiing at Boeing so I went outside and noticed there was no air traffic. Then a single jumbo airliner rose in the sky. I could tell it was white. I couldn’t quite make out the light blue, but I think I saw it. It made a turn and looked like it was going to Clooney’s house.

And not long after that I started seeing lots of airplanes. So I’m pretty sure I saw the president fly by and I didn’t have to endure the hassle of a Secret Service security check.

Two for Turkey

If you have time to sit by a computer and read news stories between now and dinner on Thursday, allow me to recommend just two. They have absolutely nothing to do with the Thanksgiving holiday and the one story I did read about the holiday was boring. I saved you from it. These two are interesting looking ahead to next year, all next year.

First off comes the Washington Post story on Newt Gingrich’s candidacy. He has two things Conservatives hate: an affair with Freddie Mac and a woman who became his wife; and yet he is in the lead. The reason? People see him winning in November.

In The Daily Beast Michael Tomasky lays out “How Obama Can Get to 270 Electoral Votes.”

Is it proper to laugh at this?

Last week we asked if all that celebrating of bin Laden’s death was appropriate. If you want a little chuckle, guffaw or snort about it and the related crackpottery, you might enjoy Eric D Snider’s treatment of the subject. A taste:

There was no time for celebration in the country’s newsrooms, where the mood was intense and serious. After three years of being very careful not to write “Osama” when they meant “Obama” and vice versa, now journalists faced their worst nightmare: a news story that involved both men. TV anchors were required to say “Osama” and “Obama” in the same sentence. It was a situation fraught with peril. A few TV stations, newspapers, and websites made mistakes along the lines of “Obama says Obama is dead.” We assumed these flubs were the result of simple human error — except when they happened on Fox News, of course, and then we assumed they were deliberate.

Barack Obama was born on the grassy knoll

I wish New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would have been the one people had suspicions about when it came to his birth. I wish that because Christie could get away with telling people to do something physically with themselves that I’m pretty sure is anatomically impossible.

Instead, it’s Obama, a man who probably would be scolded for telling people to kiss his tuckus, which is probably what he should have said all along. Anyone who wasn’t convinced by the first birth document that has been available for everyone to see for going on three years probably wasn’t going to buy the latest (or earliest) document. So why bother releasing the original?

Read this. If you don’t want to, the birther movement benefits Obama, especially if he can lump all his critics in with those seen as loonies. He can make jokes at fundraisers and seem the victim of some real wackiness the media wouldn’t ignore.

Obama to birthers: “Thank you.”

Either that or he really was just tired of it.

I have to admit some affection for birthers. If my mom were alive I would halfway suspect that she would be one. Her mother was convinced JFK was not killed in Dallas that day. She got her information from a guy on a bus. She could argue about a lot of things, but she was particularly convinced about that one. My mom defended Nixon beyond reason. Sure, you can believe a lot about the guy that would make him less crooked than he was judged to be, but at some point you have to admit he did something wrong.

The Washington Post story linked in the second paragraph is interesting, because it again makes the point that when we’re emotionally invested in something we are inclined to hold fast to it even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Conspiracy theories have the self-sustaining gift of ramification: They sprout new tendrils, like a mad vine that has invaded from another continent. For the committed conspiracy theorist, there is always another angle to explore, another anomaly to scrutinize.

Heaven knows I have been emotionally attached to things that were hard to defend. New Coke is one I remember.