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Doge and Obamacare. Such anger. Very bewilderment.

The Health and Human Services Department is using the Doge Internet meme to promote Obamacare among younger people. But the early Twitter consensus has not been enthusiastic.

By Staff writer / February 26, 2014

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York October 2, 2013.

Mike Segar/Reuters/File

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It’s true: The federal government is using the Doge Internet meme to promote Obamacare. This is likely to be the most confounding and/or controversial means of pushing younger people to enroll in health insurance via the Affordable Care Act since “Pajama Boy.”

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Remember Pajama Boy? The glasses-wearing semi-hipster wearing a plaid onesie and sipping hot chocolate in an ad that promoted talking about getting health coverage? A few people thought it was clever. Many did not.

OK, back to Doge. On Wednesday afternoon, the Health and Human Services' Twitter feed pushed out a tweet featuring a photo of a Shiba Inu dog playing in the snow.

In crayon script over the photo was written, “So health insurance. Very benefits. Wow. Many coverage. Much affordable. Such HealthCare.gov.”

This mimics Doge, a meme on Tumblr in which introspective-looking Shiba Inus are depicted with a dog-brain-level interior monologue, such as, “Wow. Who am I? Such unsure. So much mystery.”

Note: We fully realize that by describing this, we have sucked all joy and art from the process. It’s like explaining why a joke is funny, a process never funny in itself. But this is explanatory journalism, so give us a break.

Obviously, HHS is trying to push enrollment in health insurance among young people as Obamacare’s final deadline for 2014 coverage approaches. Younger people are generally healthier, and the more of them sign up, the better balanced insurance risk pools will be. And what better way to advertise to the wired Gen Y than on the Internet where they live? With the same memes they use?

That would work if it did not come across like George Will quoting Arcade Fire. On Twitter, the immediate early consensus about the Doge meme and HHS was simple: “make it stop.”

HHS “used the recently revived, three-year-old meme to flog Obamacare on Wednesday, which hopefully means that by Thursday, we’ll all sort of silently agree it’s over,” writes New York Magazine’s Adam Martin.

Others pointed out that anyone who has never encountered Doge will be mystified.

“When cable news picks up the @HHSGov Doge, it’s going to strike a lot of people who have never seen Doge as confusing and idiotic. #backfire,” tweeted Politico media columnist Dylan Byers on Wednesday.

There are a couple of further points on this subject worth mentioning. One is that HHS and its associated marketers might be cleverer than it seems on the surface. This could be back-flip marketing, in which messages are passed along by people making fun of them.

After all, lots of people made fun of Pajama Boy. But every joke mentioned “signing up for Obamacare” right alongside.

And finally, this isn’t the first time Doge and Washington have collided. Politicians have been doing Doge posts for some time, as The Huffington Post reported in December.

A post by Rep. Tom Massie (R) of Kentucky criticizing last year’s budget deal is typical: “Much bipartisanship. Very spending. Wow.”

So if this meme is one whose intellectual purity has been sullied by politics, that’s something that occurred some time ago.

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