by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Obama recently went on the “Ellen” TV show to encourage people to sign up for health insurance at HealthCare.gov. The interview lacked the humor of last week’s “Between Two Ferns” interview with Zach Galifianakis, but it was part of the same concerted strategy: to use pop culture venues to push the Affordable Care Act.
The president began this strategy last summer, months before the problematic launch of the health care enrollment website. In July 2013, he brought celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Amy Poehler, Michael Cera, and Kal Penn to the White House, asking them to help promote the ACA. In addition to those celebrities, apparently busier stars like Jon Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, and Oprah Winfrey sent their “representatives” to attend the meeting. Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein, then of The Washington Post, reported that the president viewed the push to implement the ACA as his “last campaign.”
The phraseology is apt, as the White House is clearly aiming to replicate its 2012 re-election strategy to sell the health care law. During the campaign, the Obama team used a combination of pop culture venues and celebrity backers to make the argument, raise the funds, and get out the voters to secure a second term.
Obama appeared in “soft” media venues more than two dozen times in the run-up to the election. He “slow jammed” the news on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” Fallon, for his part, called Obama “the Barackness Monster.” The president even appeared on an Albuquerque radio show to tell the “Morning Mayhem” crew that he prefers green chili over red, and that he likes working out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
This strategy was not one of avoidance but of engagement. The venues and the messages were carefully thought out. Richard Wolffe’s recent book, “The Message,” reveals that Obama did not go on these pop culture venues to avoid tough questions, as some in the White House press corps appeared to think, but that the Obama team “preferred interviews with entertainment shows for their reach among infrequent and uninformed voters.”