Obama between a rock and two ferns

Let’s be fair. Richard Nixon once said “Sock it to me” on Laugh-In. Gerald Ford did the “Live from New York…” intro on Saturday Night Live. Bill Clinton played the sax on Arsenio Hall, and candidate George W. Bush appeared on David Letterman to read a list of the “Top 10 Changes I’ll Make In The White House” – which included not throwing up on Japanese leaders (“like other Bush presidents I know”) and making sure the library had plenty of books with big type and lots of pictures.

So before we get too critical of President Obama’s appearance with comedian Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns, we should remember that other presidents were quite happy to risk the “dignity” of the office for a bit of light relief.

The logic of Obama’s appearance, it seems, was to reach out to Millennials to convince them to sign up for healthcare. The real assault on the president’s dignity, it seemed to me, wasn’t the humorous setting itself, but the fact that Galifianakis felt so free to ridicule Obamacare {“the thing that doesn’t work”). Even worse, Obama kept repeating healthcare-dot-gov over and over, like some kind of Shamwow pitchman.

But worst of all – the strategy doesn’t appear to be succeeding.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, usually a reliable Obama booster, points out that according to figures announced by the Obama administration, only 1.08 million people between age 18 and 34 had signed up for Obamacare through the end of February, which was about 25% of the total. But the ratio needs to be much higher for the law to work. “If the proportion doesn’t improve significantly,” Milbank notes, “the result likely will be fatal for the Affordable Care Act.”

I take no position on the ACA itself; what interests me, as followers of this blog will know, is the reactions and behaviors of the different generations and how they play into the larger themes we’ve been following here. And in this context, Milbank goes on to cite some very interesting dynamics.

After noting that Obama’s appearance with Galifianakis is in itself an indication of just how far his support has fallen among Millennials, Milbank asks:

What went wrong? The president and his aides failed to keep his youth movement engaged. But part of the problem also is the                                         inability of the millennial generation to remain attached to a cause. The generation that brought Obama to power is connected                                        online but has no loyalty to institutions — including, it turns out, the Obama White House.

It turns out that “as a group, the generation’s attachment is fickle.”

Milbank cites an import new Pew survey of the Millennials, which found that 18-33 year olds are “less attached than older generations to organized politics and religion, less patriotic, less eager to marry and less trusting of people.”


Milbank quotes Tufts professor Peter Levine, “who specializes in youth civic involvement,” and who believes the Millennials “lack ties to institutions – unions, political parties, churches – because of their online existence.” Levine says, “The organizational structure they’re growing up in is so weak, there aren’t very many durable institutions that can capitalize on their enthusiasm. They’re being asked to do it themselves, online, and it’s a tall order.”

This is a very interesting observation, with implications across a wide range of topics. I’ll be following it more closely – and reporting on the Pew survey in more detail – in future posts. In the meantime, I strongly recommend you read Milbank’s entire article, right here.



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. Vice President, Zoomer Media Ltd. . Author of "The New Old" . 30 years experience in marketing communications, advertising, media . Speaker, writer, commentator on the revolution in aging and how to market to Boomers and seniors