Barack Obamas pre-emptive humour offensive
Extremists don’t represent popular opinion, but they strive to make a hell of a lot of noise and let the masses know how they feel. From terrorists to the tea party, extremism hasn’t been far from the headlines in the United States over the last decade.
Barack Obama has had to deal with a loud, angry and influential right wing movement guaranteed heavy coverage on Fox News, with a lot trickling down across all networks, for the drama if nothing else. His responses to the extremists have usually been cursory, refusing to come down to their level, but this past week Obama has stepped up to play on their terms. With a poll showing only 38% of Americans were positive Obama was born in the United States, Obama probably had to respond. He released his long form birth certificate, he called the ‘birther’ debate “silly business” and implored Republicans, spearhaired by Donald Trump, to focus on more important issues. It was a little victory for common sense, and Obama capitalised on the lunacy of the situation at the Press correspondents dinner.
Marketing magazine spoke with Sam North, media director of Ogilvy 360 Worldwide and a veteran journalist, about Obama’s speech and the White House’s response to right wing extremism and the extermination of Osama Bin Laden.
“America has an extreme right wing faction that are very angry and very loud, and are getting a lot of coverage in the press. With the White House press correspondent’s dinner, it seemed a deliberate attempt to make fun of them, and try and take the heat out of the debate.”
The White House's YouTube channel is keeping voters up to date on just about everything congressional, as well as supplying a couple of laughs in self-deprecating style.
North says the shooting of Arizonan Democrat Senator Gabrielle Giffords in January was a sign the right wing extremism had got out of hand.
“That was seen as a wake up call for the debate,” North says, “and Obama has very necessarily tried to take that tone down since then. Instead of engaging with Trumps’ nonsense, he’s made fun of it, and made it clear they’ve got more serious issues to deal with. They’ve made an attempt to engage with voters through laughter and ridicule.”
The Bin Laden kill
The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death broke online yesterday with a slew of unconfirmed reports. North tells Marketing magazine that the leak worked favourably for the Obama adminisration.
"From Obama’s point of view, it didn’t matter that the news got out early," North says. "It was very late at night when he went on to announce it. If it hadn’t got out and he just turned up on TV late at night, who would have been watching? The more you can get people speculating, the more the people of America will be sitting up waiting for him to come on. It’s a good tactic, it’s good news, it spreads. If it’s bad news, the government would have been upset about it coming up early."
North says the Bin Laden kill is a massive win for the President's re-election stocks, and might force vocal American extremists to pipe down for a little while.
"He’s been portrayed as soft on terrorism, while the extreme right wingers paint him as closet Muslim ever since he ran for Presidency because of his time in Indonesia," North says. "In his announcement speech, he mentioned ‘I did this’, ‘I did that’, ‘I authorised’, ‘I didn’t organise it, but I okayed it’. It was very much Obama putting his stamp on it, saying ‘this is me that did this’. The obvious inference is, even though he was very gracious towards Bush in his speech, was that George Bush didn’t do it, Obama did. If America didn’t have fixed term elections they’d be going to polls next month, they’ve cut down the radicals for a little while."
Nevertheless, North thinks the timing is still great for Obama from an election campaign marketing perspective.
“It’s a very good time for this to happen,” he says. “It seems even before this, Obama would be re-elected, but this sets up the middle ground beautifully. He can point to the Bush legacy of the economy and how he’s reacted. There will be a lot of confidence in America now, and that should flow through to the economy.”