Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lena Dunham

Win or Lose, Obama Sure Is Lost

Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.

And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.

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Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.

And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.

Obama has built his firewall around Ohio this election, which is why someone more popular than the president—Bill Clinton—is currently there on his behalf. Where do you campaign if you have nothing to say? How do you draw a large crowd without large ideas?

This gets to another problem with the election. If Obama wins, it might very well be because Romney ran out of time to catch him, for the polling trends are much kinder to the challenger than the incumbent. Which means that his so-called “kill Romney” strategy, in which the president’s campaign sought to bury Romney early on with the politics of personal destruction that even included whipping up attacks on Romney’s religion, will be credited with making the difference.

It’s possible, also, that the campaign will pat itself on the back for its Big Bird, binders, and birth control attacks. Which brings me back to Alana’s post and her discussion of the Lena Dunham ad. Dunham’s sharp HBO show, which deserves the praise it has received, has been lauded by social conservatives as well as liberal Millennials tired of entrusting their pop culture depictions to those outside their own generation.

Whether you think the show is intended to be literal or just sly social commentary, the characters are aimless. Which is why it’s so appropriate to see Dunham cut an ad for the aimless president she supports. But Obama isn’t a Millennial having too much fun in Brooklyn to settle down. He’s the president of the United States and he’s asking for a second term. Even if he’s not quite sure why.

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Is a ‘Big Picture’ Election Impossible?

At the Washington Times, Emily Esfahani Smith weighs in on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, and what it says about her show Girls:

The show’s message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like “Sex and the City,” magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like “No Strings Attached” — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls. 

“I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw,” Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of “Girls.” …

That was Miss Dunham 1.0.

To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, “You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control.”

Dunham isn’t the only person supporting Obama (in part) because of his birth control provisions. But it probably has less to do with them supporting the “objectification of women,” and more to do with wanting something for “free” that they otherwise would have paid for.

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At the Washington Times, Emily Esfahani Smith weighs in on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, and what it says about her show Girls:

The show’s message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like “Sex and the City,” magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like “No Strings Attached” — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls. 

“I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw,” Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of “Girls.” …

That was Miss Dunham 1.0.

To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, “You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control.”

Dunham isn’t the only person supporting Obama (in part) because of his birth control provisions. But it probably has less to do with them supporting the “objectification of women,” and more to do with wanting something for “free” that they otherwise would have paid for.

It’s one thing to think the birth control mandate is a good idea. But is it really a reasonable issue to pin your vote on? Should it be a serious factor for deciding the direction of the country?

Democrats seem to hope so. Birth control is the first issue Dunham cites in the ad, probably because it’s the one aspect of Obamacare that resonates the most with the people who watch her show Girls. Obamacare will actually be impacted by this election, unlike the other issues Dunham mentioned (Iraq withdrawal — already done, and actually an agreement set under Bush; supporting gay marriage — Obama says the choice is up to the states, not the federal government; and Lilly Ledbetter, which was signed three years ago and has had no change whatsoever in the supposed gender wage gap).

Dunham’s show has been praised by conservatives, in part, because it puts a mirror up to a generation that’s stuck in an extended adolescence. She plays a smart recent college graduate who still has no idea how to interact with adults or take care of herself. But the show can either be viewed as an indictment of Millennials, or it can be viewed in earnest. You could easily picture the characters voting for “free birth control,” with no real thought for larger issues, and there are plenty of people out there who probably think exactly the same way.

That’s what Obama has relied on this election — various little promises to various little slices of the electorate. It’s what’s made it so difficult for Republicans to run the “big picture” election they had hoped for. But has a big picture election become impossible? We may find out Nov. 6.

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Should Your First Time Be With Obama?

If you watch the show “Girls,” you know writer Lena Dunham is an expert at creating painfully awkward but still compelling scenes. This ad she cut for the Obama campaign is along those lines:

After watching the ad, Foreign Policy wonders whether the concept was borrowed from a similar commercial run by Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign 

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If you watch the show “Girls,” you know writer Lena Dunham is an expert at creating painfully awkward but still compelling scenes. This ad she cut for the Obama campaign is along those lines:

After watching the ad, Foreign Policy wonders whether the concept was borrowed from a similar commercial run by Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign 

Is Obama’s ad a reflection of his own Putin-like personality cult? It’s hard to imagine any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, cutting a video like this. Not just because it’s risque, but because it could easily be seen as sexist, patronizing, and offensive.

Of course, Putin’s ad wasn’t designed to win an election (he has much more reliable ways of doing that), but to build his legend as a hyper-masculine patriarch. Obama’s ad is the reverse. It’s aimed at getting young people to vote, not to make people think young women like Dunham have romantic feelings about him.

But was the chance of this video going viral and convincing a few Millenials to vote really worth the risk of being mocked for copying a sleazy Russian autocrat? On Twitter, Phil Klein wondered whether there was a secondary motivation:

@melissatweets so far, it’s mocking. But all they need is one statement that goes to far, and they’ll run with it, and media will follow

— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) October 26, 2012

Who knows? The Obama campaign could benefit from a big, fake media controversy to reenergize its “war on women” theme, especially since the Mourdock scandal appears to be winding down.

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