Oh dear. The Obama administration isn’t doing very well with putting an empathetic face on its calamitous health-insurance law, is it? First, we had Julia, the creepy, eyeless, vision-of-horror from Brave New World whose life was run from cradle to grave by the federal government. Then, we had Adriana, the painfully neutral and carefully ambi-racial stock-model-from-everywhere whose face became so synonymous with HealthCare.gov’s hilarious launch that she had to be replaced with a graphic plugging an 800 number. And now, courtesy of Organizing for Action, we have Pajama Boy, a metrosexual hipster in a plaid onesie who wants you to spend your precious Christmas days talking to him about the president’s vision for health insurance.
Unlike your average Jehovah’s Witness, Pajama Boy has evidently managed not only to get into the warmth of your house to do his proselytizing, but to make himself a cup of hot chocolate and to get into his bedtime clothes to boot. That is to say, Pajama Boy is staying over — priggish facial expression and all — and he won’t leave until you’ve relented. The Founding Fathers certainly couldn’t have envisioned Obamacare, but one suspects that if they had possessed even the slightest inkling that the growth of government would lead to this, they might have expanded the underused Third Amendment to include Advocates of Change™, too. These, suffice it to say, are people you do not want quartered anywhere near you.
When Twitter rather predictably exploded with derision, a few contrarians suggested that the campaign was deliberately self-deprecating — silly, yes, but explicitly intended to provoke a reaction and thus to guarantee discussion. I’m afraid that this doesn’t strike me as very likely. We are, after all, dealing with the tone-deaf team that thought that “Truth Team,” and “Attack Watch,” two services that allowed Americans to inform the White House about their Obama-criticizing neighbors, were a good idea. As Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins has asked rhetorically, “Is there any battle in contemporary politics being waged with more indignity and less prowess than the tug-of-war for twentysomethings over Obamacare?”
No, there is not. But then what did you expect? OFA, and its various offshoots, are staffed by third-growth McGovernites who have come of age at the exact point that the radicalism of the 1960s finally won out. As David Burge of “Iowahawk” fame likes to joke, perhaps it wasn’t “a good idea to turn the most successful country in the history of the world over to the grievance faculty at Harvard.” Still, that is what we have done. And we have ended up with a parade of over-educated and under-experienced perpetual children who don’t think twice before dressing a grown man up in footie pajamas.
In Brideshead Revisited, after Sebastian Flyte is repeatedly upbraided by the Oxford faculty for drinking too much and doing too little work, he asks Charles Ryder what one is expected to do instead. “How does one mend one’s ways?” he inquires:
I suppose one joins the League of Nations Union, and reads the Isis every week, and drinks coffee in the morning at the Cadena café and smokes a great pipe and plays hockey and goes out to tea on Boar’s Hill and to lectures at Keble, and rides a bicycle with a little tray full of note-books and drinks cocoa in the evening and discusses sex seriously.
Times have changed, of course. The League of Nations Union is now the Queer Students Assocation. Sebastian’s proposed discussion of sex would today be replaced by a “dialogue” about the evils of “heteronormativity” or “micro-aggressions,” the pressing necessity of “safe spaces,” and the vital importance of whatever other buzzwords the comically hopeless liberal-arts students at Oberlin, Hampshire, and Brown are talking about these days. And smoking, being bad for you, certainly wouldn’t appeal. But the archetype of the goody-goody remains, right down to the drinking cocoa. Put a bunch of these people in a room with a few MacBook Airs and a shared copy of Adobe Photoshop, and this is the character they come up with by themselves. Because Pajama Boy is OFA; and OFA is Pajama Boy. The vaguely androgynous, student-glasses-wearing, Williamsburg hipster isn’t a clever marketing idea. It is the id of the Obama machine made public. Of course he’s made it onto the propaganda.
My former National Review colleague Dan Foster once rather depressingly suggested to me that The Big Bang Theory’s star geek, Leonard Hofstadter, was far from the loser that he needs to be for the joke to work, but instead the “voice of our generation.” One need only look at MSNBC for examples of this. The strapline du choix over at 30 Rock is “#nerdland”; the native tongue is the cretinous lingo of the graduate school; this season’s style is Earnest Ph.D. Candidate No. 6. Pajama Boy is, as Obama might put it, a composite character: part Chris Hayes, part Rachel Maddow, part Lena Dunham. One of the funnier photoshops from last night features the caption, “Mommy said I could stay up late tonight.” If so, he isn’t waiting for PBS to broadcast the boobs and bad language on imported British comedies, as overgrown children once did; he’s ignoring his bedtime to ensure the Howard Zinn special on All In records properly.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to screw up one Obamacare personification may be regarded as a misfortune; to screw up them all looks like carelessness. Or, perhaps better: ignorance. The harsh truth is that the advertising machine behind the Obama administration seems not to really know what normal human beings are like. In Colorado, when OFA-wannabe group, ProgressNowColorado, was charged with selling the law to young people, it drew on the worst of cartoons. All the women were sluts; all the men were idiots; all the girls were playing extremely violent sports.
It was, in other words, an expensive exercise in overcompensation — the inexplicable indulgence of a group of silly people with chips on their shoulders who had forgotten that their brief was actually to achieve something. If anything will save conservatives from the expansive agenda of the Left, it may be that progressives honestly do believe deep down that intentions and words are equal to achievement and action, and, too, that like the hapless revolutionaries in Life of Brian, sticking to arbitrary sensitivity rules is as important as running the government properly. That, at this late and critical stage, the administration could not help itself but to demonstrate that it really is its critics’ worst nightmare is, perversely, encouraging. “How are you going to encourage people to sign up, then?” conservatives asked. “Pajama Boy!” came the answer. And then we all laughed and went about our business — in adults’ clothes, of course.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.