Obama Trolling for the Knucklehead Vote
By Ed Lasky
Pundits have ridiculed the string of fluff television, radio, and magazine appearances that Barack Obama has been making the last few months. They are wrong. He has a strategy and is executing it well. He is seeking and winning the votes of those Michelle Obama calls knuckleheads.
Inside-the-Beltway journalists have decried Barack Obama's refusal to hold many press conferences. His canned speeches and reliance on the teleprompter have provided them with precious few chances to score points among their colleagues for gotcha questions.
Most journalists would rather attack Mitt Romney like a pack of hyenas than ask the president any questions that may discomfort him. Instead, Barack Obama sends out his hapless Press Secretary Jay Carney to field questions -- or people like Susan Rice to evade truthful answers regarding the murders of Americans in Libya, the march of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Arab Spring going up in flames (along with American flags and embassies). That is what they are paid to do: make excuses, fabricate answers or curse those seeking answers, fall on the sword if need be. They will still keep their lives and their jobs.
Barack Obama would rather nurture his bromance with David Letterman, who has had the president and the first lady on his show numerous times. Letterman gets a big ratings boost; the Obama campaign gets free airtime in front of an audience in millions. That is certainly worth millions of dollars -- or at least a Kennedy Center honor.
Or perhaps, Barack Obama prefers chatting about his pepper preferences and favorite superpowers with a New Mexico talk show host to explaining how his administration screwed up security in Libya so that those bumps in the road (otherwise known as the murders of Americans) happened. Contemplating fantasy abilities must be far more enjoyable than revealing the true history of the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal -- a topic that might be of interest to citizens of a border state.
And of course, talking about rappers Pitbull and Flo Rida with a Florida DJ known as the "Pimp with the Limp" certainly beats talking with congressional leaders from both parties about avoiding the coming fiscal cliff and Taxmageddon that could lead to yet more economic weakness and job losses in a few months. Many journalists, including most recently Bob Woodward, have reported that Barack Obama is a loner who has held barely any meetings with key leaders in Congress, his Jobs Council, his Cabinet, his Daily Intelligence Briefers, the Erskine-Bowles Commission -- the club of people stiffed by the president has an ever-growing membership. Even the liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has criticized Obama's pattern of unexcused absences when important issues need to be addressed (see her column "Obama's 'Where's Waldo?' Presidency"). In 2008, the paucity of Obama's record and his reliance on airy platitudes (Hope, Change, Yes We Can, We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For, and other juvenilia) instead of solid proposals combined with his lack of a record, led some to characterized him as the "Being There" candidate, after the vacuous character played by Peter Sellers in the movie of that name. Now he is the "Not Being There" president.
Meeting with foreign leaders during the annual confab at the United Nations was never on the calendar -- crowded out by an appearance on The View, where he touted his status as "eye candy." Why meet with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu when he could be charmed by Whoopi Goldberg and whoop it up with that wiz Joy Behar?
What is up with the abdication of responsibility on the part of the president? Is it all a function of his lack of a work ethic, his addiction to golf, his preference for having fun with NBA basketball players, his enjoyment from being serenaded by a parade of singers in the East Room? After all, he did say "we never need an excuse for a good party" at the White House.
Can he bully or stonewall queries from local reporters, or will they be so overawed by their chance to talk with a president that they will not mar the experience with serious questions? Are reporters and talking heads from Entertainment Tonight, People Magazine, or Vogue even interested in asking serious questions about the parlous state of our nation and the history of mistakes made by the president? At least the Univision journalists who grilled him over his broken promises over immigration and the Fast and the Furious scandal proved their mettle. But serious questioning of this president is an astronomically rare occurrence. There won't be any White House invitations for those who trespass; at least he spared the Univision hosts a tirade such as the one he delivered to one Texas interviewer who offended him.
All of the above are possibilities, but a recent study may reveal an ulterior motive. Obama is trolling for the votes of people Michelle Obama derided a few months ago as "knuckleheads" -- people who may not yet be registered, who don't really follow politics, who are confused by the issues, don't follow the news, and are not motivated to vote.
Joshua Green delved "Inside the Minds of Undecided Voters" in Business Week. He noted that a portion of them are following politics and the candidates but just have not settled on one. But then there are the others -- the couch potatoes:
The other group of undecided voters, those who haven't tuned in yet, will draw on an even thinner grasp of politics. They tend not to follow current events and thus don't respond to the normal methods of persuasion. Brabender calls them "unknowings" and says they can't be reached by advertising on Fox News or MSNBC. "If you're watching Fox, you already know who you're voting for," he says. This group tends to be younger, concentrated in rural and suburban areas, and more apt to watch prime-time network TV than news shows, which means its members are more expensive to reach through ads.
Advances in data mining have helped media strategists understand the habits and preferences of undecideds with uncanny specificity. According to research shared with Bloomberg Businessweek by National Media Research, Planning & Placement, which buys TV ads for campaigns, high-turnout swing voters tend to drive Saabs, drink Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi and Corona Light, listen to adult contemporary music, and watch Turner Classic Movies and The Office.
They also have a special fondness for reality TV. "In 2010 the research pointed to reality and talent competition programs and shows such as Dancing with the Stars and Pawn Stars," says Will Feltus, the company's senior vice president. "Comedies are also good for reaching swing voters. Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men work well."
Combined, these undecided voters represent somewhere between 2 percent and 8 percent of the vote and are hard to reach. Yet the campaigns will certainly feel compelled to try.
And so Obama has been trying to reach them.
For years, there has been a cliché that undecided voters break for the challenger. Obama may be breaking this paradigm. This time they may be shifting to Obama.
His repeated appearances on comedy shows, daytime talk shows (No Dick Cavett here; No Firing Line), and his joshing with local DJs such as The Pimp with the Limp are efforts to reach these potential voters.
Obama certainly enjoys an advantage here: it is hard to fathom a man as serious and contemplative as Mitt Romney -- a man who is more focused on facing our problems rather than babbling pabulum (without the nutrition) -- riding the carnival circuit.
Obama has no problem on the carnival circuit. He is a star there, the world's biggest celebrity, as the McCain camp presciently recognized in one of their few smart tactics during the 2008 campaign.
This Obama campaign strategy has been clear for some time.
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