Robin Abcarian
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Obama & Galifianakis: Not a yuck fest, but that wasn't the point

ElectionsPoliticsBarack ObamaAffordable Care Act (Obamacare)Justin BieberCarly FiorinaSanjay Gupta

Here’s the thing about President Obama’s decision to appear with Zach Galifianakis on Funny or Die's “Between Two Ferns,” one of the funniest faux-interview series you will ever see on the Web or off.

It’s not that Obama was particularly funny (his jokes seemed strained). Or that Galifianakis was at his offensive best (I’d save that praise for his interview with Justin Bieber, though asking whether Obama was going to put his presidential library in Hawaii or Kenya was pretty funny).

But right now, with the end of the first enrollment period looming, the president is looking for ways to goose the enrollment of young adults in Obamacare. Appearing on “Between Two Ferns” is a sure-fire way to get the word out. Will it generate any sign-ups? That remains to be seen. But everyone’s talking about it.

Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: President Barack Obama from President Barack Obama

Meanwhile, Republican advocates tried to dissuade young adults from signing up for Obamacare by producing grotesque spots featuring a creepy Uncle Sam character who popped up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

Quite apart from the stupidity of urging young adults to pay a fine and forgo health insurance rather than pay a modest fee for coverage, would you rather watch Zach Galifianakis goofing with the president, or that?

The larger point – and probably the more important lesson for the GOP as it gears up for 2016 -- is that the president and his incredibly successful campaign machine know where to go to get the votes. And guess who has inherited all that talent? Yup.

In 2012, the Obama campaign behaved like digital natives, while the Romney campaign behaved like digital immigrants – unsure, a few beats behind, always waiting for the kids to explain things.

In August, 2012, the president offered himself up for an AMA on Reddit before the Romney campaign seemed to grasp what it was. Reddit is a massively popular online community with user-generated content and many threads or “subreddits” for different interests.

One of its most popular features is “Ask Me Anything”—or AMA. AMAs provide unfiltered exchanges between famous, interesting or obscure people and their fans or critics. Today, for instance the site featured this: “I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN. I’m doubling down on the legalization of medical marijuana. AMA.”

After Obama’s successful AMA, one of Reddit’s founders invited Romney to join the fray, but the former Massachusetts governor passed.

Some Republicans, like Romney’s chief strategist Stuart Stevens, said after the election that it was Obama’s message, not his technology, that resonated with young voters.

But even the most partisan Republicans admit that Obama had a better grasp on how to reach people.

“What is it that Obama did so brilliantly this past election cycle?” asked Carly Fiorina, the head of the American Conservative Union Foundation, during a CPAC panel discussion on conservative ideas last weekend. “We need to give him his due. They put people in neighborhoods, in barrios, in communities, and those people established five-year relationships so that they were talking one-on-one with people about why this vote is going to matter to you and your family.”

A month after the president was inaugurated for his second term in January 2013, the New York Times magazine ran a story that took a dim view of the Republican Party’s technological abilities: “Can the GOP be saved from obsolescence?”

No one will tell you that appearing on a popular Web show with a liberal comedian is the way to make Obamacare work.

But in the hunt for enrollees, as in any campaign, you need to know where to look.

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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