Those who do not learn from former President Barack Obama’s Twitter feed are condemned to repeat it.
Almost eight years ago now, in an attempt to pump up low enrollment numbers in Obamacare among younger Americans, Obama tweeted out an image that would come to symbolize the whole poxed health care debacle. “How do you plan to spend the cold days of December?” the president asked, atop an image that became known as “Pajama Boy.”
The young man in the photo was sitting cross-legged, wearing red-and-black plaid nightclothes, glasses and a witless grin. It looked like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch about Obama’s most insufferable millennial supporters. Instead, it was an appeal to them put together by Organizing for Action — a rebranded version of the then-president’s campaign arm, Obama for America.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 17, 2013
“Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance,” the image read.
Few attempts at political memery have backfired with such aplomb. Consider the headlines. Politico: “Pajama Boy, An Insufferable Man-Child.” The Christian Science Monitor: “‘Pajama Boy’ on Obamacare: Will Millennials hear a grownup in a onesie?” Here’s one from an NBC News article in defense of the ad: “You are not supposed to like Pajama Boy.”
They went for cute, they got loathsome. Surely this stuck in the mind of everyone in President Joe Biden’s administration; Pajama Boy was ubiquitous enough that even Uncle Joe has to vaguely remember it. It’s the textbook case of “how do you do, fellow kids?“-ism from an elected official. Everyone’s learned their lesson from this, right?
— TransportationGov (@USDOT) November 26, 2021
Pajama Boy, we hardly knew ye. In a three-panel meme comic tweeted Friday by the Department of Transportation, a texting girl asks, “what are you thinking about,” along with a googly-eyes emoji and two fingers touching.
“i’m thinking about how the new infrastructure law is going to make getting from place to place so much better over the next decade and how when combined with the Build Back Better act, it will create millions of new jobs,” the boy responds.
“same,” the girl says, with a blushing smile.
Wait until they find out the bill their generation is getting stuck with; there’ll be more than a few asterisks when we revisit these two WhatsApping about “Build Back Better” in their mid-40s, one imagines.
This would be bad enough if it were the first time the Biden administration had stolen one of the Obama administration’s worst messaging failures to support their infrastructure and spending bills. However, in addition to not learning from the manufactured cutesiness of Pajama Boy before tweeting Texting Infrastructure Boy and Copycat Girl, the Biden administration put out a comic strip materially identical in spirit to Obama’s infamous “Life of Julia” campaign.
Again, a refresher: During the 2012 presidential race, the Obama campaign produced an internet slide show featuring a woman by the name of Julia who was helped along from the cradle to the grave by Democrat policies.
An example: “Under President Obama: During college, Julia undergoes surgery. It is thankfully covered by her insurance due to a provision in health care reform that lets her stay on her parents’ coverage until she turns 26. Under Mitt Romney: Health care reform would be repealed — Romney says he’d ‘kill it dead.'”
“Life of Julia” was a bomb, a classic of unintentional messaging. Obama’s people saw a woman who was helped by the president’s policies; everyone else saw a woman whose entire life was scripted for her by a paternalistic government. She had zero agency — she’d only succeeded because President Obama, that swell guy, let her succeed.
Again, someone in the White House forgot recent political history or chose to ignore it. To sell the infrastructure deal, Biden’s White House released an update of “Life of Julia” with a protagonist named Linda. Again, Linda doesn’t get far in life unless the government helps her and her child out:
Forget Obama’s ‘Life of Julia.’ To sell his infrastructure deal, Biden White House releases new Life of Linda: pic.twitter.com/YoSMm1XVYK
— Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) October 28, 2021
— Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) October 28, 2021
That was less than a month ago. Lesson not learned.
This, needless to say, got a lot of play on Twitter — although most of the thoughts fell into one of two categories, neatly illustrated by Fox News producer Will Ricciardella and conservative Twitterer Stephen L. Miller, aka @redsteeze:
The left can’t meme https://t.co/mPwdPfx6av
— Will Ricciardella (@WillRicci) November 27, 2021
38 state wipe out. https://t.co/wbfovuQKF0
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) November 27, 2021
So first: No, the left can’t meme. Dissecting what a meme is supposed to do is boring and pedantic, so suffice it to say they’re supposed to be funny and make a point. The humor here is totally unintentional. The point? That Texting Infrastructure Boy is parroting White House talking points on the infrastructure and spending plans being so totally awesome. This is the fallacy of the argument from authority — made even worse considering the authority, in this case, is a teenage boy who writes about infrastructure in run-on sentences and without capitalization.
As for the second count — the prospect of a “38 state wipe out” or something similar — it’s difficult to see a scenario in which the administration doesn’t face some electoral reckoning for the utter shambles they’ve made of things, both big and small.
Say what you will about Barack Obama — I’ve said plenty, myself — he was a man who could survive Pajama Boy. For his multifarious flaws, he was an energetic political athlete. Joe Biden’s polling is bad and Vice President Kamala Harris’ is worse. The two lack all energy and charisma — something the administration has increasingly turned to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as of late to provide.
When Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation thinks this is the kind of memery that gets across to the kids, it indicates he might not be the guy you want to turn to. Nobody at NBC News is going to be writing an article called, “You are not supposed to like Texting Infrastructure Boy.”
In short: It’s a long way to 2024, but if the Biden administration keeps picking at the worst parts of the Obama carcass, a “38 state wipe out” may be spotting the administration a kindness.
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