Republican complaints — along with Bill O’Reilly’s on-air tantrum — about President Obama’s comedy bit plugging PPACA smack a little of middle-aged parents barking at their children about “that loud noise you call music.”
For a party already largely disconnected from younger generations — more on that in a minute — complaining about the president doing an online skit comedy isn’t going to help their image with anyone. And it’s certainly not going to hurt the president, who’s shown from day one that his team is plugged into the next generation of voter engagement, whether it’s tweeting from his inauguration, taking questions on Reddit or appearing on Jon Stewart.
Love him or hate him, it’s hard to argue with his approach. I can't help but think that if the great communicator himself had come along 30 years later, he’d be all over this.
But O’Reilly doesn’t think so. On his latest “Talking Point” commentary, the conservative talking head argued fiercely that Abraham Lincoln would not have used comedy to promote public policy, in this case Obamacare.
But I would argue that he did something very similar when he took his theatrical debates with Stephen Douglas on the road in 1858 to advance his own (proposed) public policy, which in his case, happened to be the abolition of slavery.
FDR, as well, broke from tradition in 1933, when he embraced radio and began his series of fireside chats. Over the next decade or so, the president would go on to deliver 30 of the evening radio broadcasts, no doubt propelling his popularity with the American public during a particularly dark time.
And while my own fellow Missourian, Harry Truman, would be the first president to address the nation on TV in 1947, it was Kennedy who took it to the next level during his debate with Nixon during the 1960 presidential battle. Kennedy actually wore make-up (gasp) while old-school Nixon refused. He then went on to sweat profusely – and quite obviously – under the hot lamps, making him look nervous. Kennedy, meanwhile, projected a cool image. His boyish good looks didn’t hurt.
Then, of course, we had candidate Bill Clinton appear on late night television during the 1992 presidential campaign, playing his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show. Many still consider it a turning point in the campaign. (Oddly, his opponent in the subsequent campaign, Bob Dole, refused to appear on any of the late-night shows during the campaign. I say, “oddly,” because he killed it on Letterman right after his election defeat, leaving many – including me at the time – to scratch their heads.)
Why should we care about all of this? Well, let’s just say that this controversy, if we can even call it that, arrives at the same time as a Pew Research Center poll on millennials. The news isn’t pretty for the old school establishments of either party. This is a group, in short, that’s more liberal and less religious than any generation that has come before them. This also is a group not really bound by any sense of tradition, history or loyalty, willing to party hop if and when it suits their needs.
It would be short-sighted and naïve for Republicans to ignore this poll and Obama's connection to this demographic, especially if this week’s special election in Florida is any indication. (Of course, it’s Florida, after all, so it might not mean anything.)
Instead of blindly bashing this lame duck president, GOP strategists would be well-served to follow his game plan, or find themselves what real health care reform would look like under Hillary Clinton.