By Kathleen Parker
WASHINGTON — I must need to smoke pot.
How else to explain why I wasn’t getting President Obama’s interview on “Between Two Ferns,” the Web show hosted by Zach Galifianakis of “The Hangover” fame.
Or perhaps I needed a hangover, which isn’t likely to happen during these Lenten times. Thus left to sobriety and afflicted with acute wakefulness, I kept trying to wrap my head around the mindless — no easy task for the unstoned.
Deadpan is key to the shtick. And monotone. Between two ferns, everyone is Bill Murray. Or, depending on one’s generation, Sgt. Joe Friday. Guests on “Ferns” are expected to check facial expressions at the door and banish emotion. Emoting is not funny; not emoting is. I’m dozing off now, so I’ll cut the fern talk. But first, could I have some water? It sure is thirsty in here.
In case you missed it, which you won’t want to admit because this would mean you don’t follow what’s trending on Twitter, which would mean you are frozen in a time no one cares about anymore and are, therefore, irrelevant. Let me rephrase that: You’re not cool — even if you’re frozen.
The president, aka leader of the free world, appeared on the show allegedly to pitch health care to the demographic worshiped by producers and presidents alike — Young People. This is because young people rule and, specifically, they rule the success or failure of the Affordable Care Act. If the young and healthy don’t buy insurance to help cover the sick and elderly, the plan could collapse.
I might have missed the show were it not for Twitter telling me what people are paying attention to. Other trending topics, at least during the time I checked in, concerned “Teen Wolf,” “The Bachelor” and Juan Pablo, who, Google tells me, was the bachelor. Such topics remind us that all is right with the world, at least nothing that would distract a president. Absent was any mention of such downers as Ukraine, Crimea, Vladimir Putin, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, North Korea or other trouble spots, never mind a missing airplane.
What better time for the president to kick back and be a comic foil in service to the greater good of universal health care? Health care is important, of course, but, I repeat, he’s the leader of the free world, parts of which are under siege.
To kick things off, Galifianakis noted that Obama pardoned a turkey in 2013. “What do you have planned for 2014?” he queried.
“We’ll probably pardon another turkey,” Obama said, his face a decent replica of itself on Botox.
Q: What is it like to be the last black president?
A: What’s it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?
Q: You know what I would do if I were president, Mr. President? I would make same-sex divorce illegal, then see how bad they want it.
A: I think that’s why you’re not president.
And so it went. I did find myself smiling, though probably at the wrong things. I’ll never tell. But like most people older than 30, I also wondered whether this was an appropriate venue for the president, especially in consideration of current events.
There are two possible answers: One, lighten up. We’re an irreverent nation, proud of our ability to laugh at ourselves and to poke fun, especially during the worst of times. I admit, this is my favorite thing about us. Two, this kind of display is beneath the dignity of the office, and the president should be more circumspect in choosing public appearances, virtual or otherwise. How can we hope to be taken seriously when the world sees our president in such silly circumstances?
Both answers have merit. I was settling on the higher truth of the second choice when I finally got it. My mind expanded of its own volition, no doubt enhanced by the power of two ferns talking, and I could see clearly what apparently was so obvious in Twitterland.
Obama’s appearance on an absurd Web program that celebrates the absurd was a masterful, strategic move aimed squarely at Putin. How better to insult a shirtless, pec-flexing thug than to engage in a theater of the absurd? How better to display maximum disrespect toward a man with a child’s ego and a nuclear arsenal — who has invaded another country where peaceful demonstrators were gunned down — than by acting as though he hasn’t a care in the world?
Here’s a final question for the president: Was it worth it?
Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.