President Barack Obama made a comedic guest appearance this morning on “Between Two Ferns,” a parody talk show hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis that airs on Funnyordie.com, hoping to effectively promote the health care exchanges on healthcare.gov to a much-needed younger audience.
Though the sketch has been generally well received by Funny or Die viewers (the video currently has an overwhelming score of “Funny” on the website’s “Funny or Die” meter), it has not escaped criticism.
Recognizing that the sketch was intended to be a humorous plug for the Affordable Care Act, The Atlantic’s David A. Grahm laments that the president has effectively substituted a relationship with the press with talk shows and comedy sketches.
“It's clearly important for the functioning of democracy for leaders to be subject to adversarial questioning,” Grahm writes, “which Galifianakis clearly isn't delivering.”
“On the other hand, part of the president's job is to communicate,” he continues, "and that's what he's doing here: trying to reach a specific audience.”
Jim Geraghty of the National Review, however, is much less forgiving. “Getting the president to pop up in every conceivable entertainment context is a deliberate strategy by this White House,” Geraghty wrote after the video went live this morning. “It is an awful development, and the next president has to at least try to put this genie back in the bottle.”
“The presidency of the United States is not meant to be an all-encompassing, ubiquitous role in the national culture," he continues. "It is a job, with a four-year contract and an option for another four. And there is no shortage of real work in that job.”
Rep. Randy Weber of the 14th Congressional District of Texas took to Twitter to express his distaste for the tactic:
Instead of playing celebrity, our President should be working on fixing his failed takeover of health care.— Randy Weber (@TXRandy14) March 11, 2014
However, Funny or Die regulars weren’t the only ones pleased with the president’s performance. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanely was not only shocked by how well the president held his own during the interview, but by how comically brutal Galifianakis was despite the mantle of the man before him.
“It took confidence to take his message to such an unwelcoming arena,” Stanely wrote, noting that many of the jokes (such as the president's identification as a “community organizer” instead of president of the United States) played off of bitter attacks from his political opponents.
Whether or not the president weakened his image as a dignified commander-in-chief, as Geraghty suggests, or simply effectively strengthened his message with younger voters, the tactic seems to have worked for health care enrollments, according to senior White House communications adviser Tara McGuinness:
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