BuzzFeed got President Obama to make a video. In it he uses a hand-held camera extender known as a selfie stick, makes a “thanks, Obama” joke when his cookie won’t fit in a glass of milk, and mugs in front of a strangely dirty mirror.
He tries on sunglasses, makes “you’re looking good” gestures, and so forth. Also, he plays pretend basketball in the White House. We’re pretty sure that the setup in his mind is, last-second shot, President Obama drives hard over Vladimir Putin, sinks the reverse layup for the win.
Why is he doing this? That’s a good question. No, he’s not looking at joining GloZell as a YouTube comedian after his term in office is over. He’s doing it because he gets in a long plug for signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” The deadline for enrollment is Feb. 15 – three days away.
This isn’t the first time the president has used an unusual video appearance (or debased himself, depending on your point of view) to promote ACA sign-ups. Last year at the end of the extended sign-up period, he shot a segment of “Between Two Ferns,” a satirical talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis.
During that one, Mr. Galifianakis's character asked Mr. Obama whether Tonya Harding or Hulk Hogan would be a better US ambassador to Syria. So it was pretty strange, too.
We’re guessing that, in terms of marketing, this approach must be working, at least in the eyes of White House officials. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have run the president out again for a video that they know will drive many Republicans nuts.
And the BuzzFeed numbers look pretty good. The video had about 2.6 million views in its first two hours. Gulp. That’s a good year for some Web-based pundits.
Of course, the biggest challenge facing Obamacare right now isn’t enrollment. It’s the US Supreme Court, which may strike down many of its tax subsidies for lower-income participants, depending on whether they sign up through state-run or federal-run marketplace “exchanges.” But that’s another story.
The selfie-stick video will produce at least one thing for sure: polarization. Critics will hate it. Some on the right already dub Obama the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) President,” charging that he’s just phoning in his last years in office. They’ll say it demeans the office of the president, will make Obama look weak overseas, and so forth.
The right-leaning Twitchy site is compiling a pretty good list of complaints of this sort.
“Sorry, world. The president can’t talk right now. He’s too busy with his selfie stick,” writes Twitchy.
Obama’s supporters, meanwhile, will say that it’s unlikely the video is more demeaning than, say, the time Ronald Reagan walked around with Minnie and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
Anticipating this sort of debate, Philip Bump of "The Fix" blog at the Washington Post has already gone through and ranked the video’s images in the order in which they diminish the presidency. Spoiler alert: The selfie stick is only number seven.
The point here is that the presidency has become a polarized, and polarizing, office. The parties themselves are more ideologically sorted than ever before. Their appeal, and the appeal of their candidates, is deeply partisan.
“In this era, presidents are dividers, not uniters,” wrote Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political scientist, in the New York Times late last year.
So the outcome of any debate about the propriety of the selfie-stick video is virtually predetermined. Right-leaning opponents will see it as the decline of the West. Left-leaning supporters will see it as clever marketing. There won’t be much in the way of middle ground.