Barack Obama’s last stand: humour?

Illustration by Donkey Hotey, Flickr

Illustration by Donkey Hotey, Flickr

Well, we’ve now seen it all. The President of the United States of America – a title that defines its holder as the most powerful man in the world – is having to resort to an appearance on a satirical web show in order to salvage what he can of his healthcare reform. But, short-term at least, the strategy seems to be bearing fruit.

If you are not among those millions of people who have already seen it, you should set a few minutes aside to screen the video of Barack Obama being interviewed on the web series Between Two Ferns, an American talk-show parody hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis, available online at

This approach, orchestrated by the President and his communications advisors, has proved successful. Even though the show is known for the embarrassing questions put to its guests, Obama included, his main intent was to promote, the centrepiece of his Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. And it seems to have worked. Following the posting of the bogus interview tens of thousands of people have visited the website.

But the appearance of Obama on this show betrays a somewhat darker side of his presidency. We are reminded here that since his election in 2008, very few of the President’s public policies have come to fruition. More often than not, his message never reached the American public.

We can say all we want about his unsurpassed oratorical skills but – important though they might be – words alone aren’t enough at the highest levels of the American political system. Leadership is much more than wonderful speeches read before a wide-eyed public. The image that comes to my mind of Obama’s presidency is of a runner on a treadmill – although clearly working hard, he is still going nowhere. Obama has had difficulties finding a rhythm to his presidency and seeing through his most important projects, with the troubles that have plagued his healthcare reform a prime example.

It’s been the same on the international scene. The recent Russian intervention on Ukrainian soil speaks volumes. The President has been completely brushed aside by Vladimir Putin. It just shows how wanting to change the tone of international affairs, as he repeatedly stated during his 2008 presidential campaign, and trying to play the nice guy with the leaders of powerful nations may win you a Nobel Peace Prize but does little to help solve political crises.

However, we must admit that the appearance of President Obama on the Between Two Ferns demonstrates a shift in political communications. The White House’s calculated move, aimed at grabbing the younger electorate’s attention, also signals a shift away from traditional media outlets and towards the web. This may explain why some major American broadcast journalists reacted negatively to the approach.

The midterm American elections next fall may result in the Democrats losing control over the Senate, so the younger electorate’s vote will play a crucial strategic role. Clearly, the campaign has been already begun.