From running presidential campaigns to running the government in the White House, the Obama machine has always found unique ways to achieve its goals.
This week, in an attempt to promote the Affordable Care Act and encourage younger Americans to sign up for health insurance before the March 31 deadline, President Obama appeared in Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” show on comic website Funny or Die, bypassing more traditional media outlets.
The video was meant to “reach Americans where they live,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a press briefing on March 11.
“Gone are the days when your broadcasts …. can reach everybody that we need to reach,” Carney said to broadcast journalists at the briefing.
He added, “We’re involved in a multifaceted effort to reach communities out there of folks who can benefit from quality, affordable health insurance, can avail themselves of the options that they’ll find on healthcare.gov. And we’re looking for creative ways to do that. This was one of them.”
In the satirical six-minute skit, “The Hangover” star posed awkward questions and traded insults with the commander-in-chief.
“What’s it like to be the last Black president?” Galifianakis asked.
“Seriously?” Obama deadpans. “What’s it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?”
Halfway through the clip, as the president begins urging young people to sign up for health care, the comedian sighs heavily and mutters, “Here we go,” and comments later amid Obama’s plug, “Is this what they mean by drones?”
“I think it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have something to plug,” Obama said in one sally.
The president’s comedic outing drew criticism from all corners of the spectrum.
Former Fox News journalist Roger Friedman said in his Showbiz411 website column that Obama’s performance was “less presidential than Richard Nixon saying ‘Sock it to me on ‘Laugh In,’” and that he “should not quit his day job.”
During the White House briefing on March 10, the press corps grilled Carney about the faux interview, questioning whether the “dignity” of the presidential office had been “damaged.
“We obviously assess opportunities that we have and, you know, look at whether they’re going to be successful and wise,” Carney replied. “And I think we made the right call here.”
The evidence seems to bear that out as, despite the detractors, the president’s use of a comedic platform seemed to achieve its purpose. According to tweets from Healthcare.gov, hourly traffic spiked on the day the video premiered; and there were 32,000 Funny or Die referrals and 575,000 site visits by 6 p.m. March 10. The next day, visits to Healthcare.gov were up by 40 percent. And, the video had 15 million views and had acquired “immortal” status—meaning it was popular and highly rated—as of March 13.
According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which manages Healthcare.gov, 4.2 million Americans have enrolled for health insurance through the federal marketplace as of March 11.