If you glance at President Obama’s official schedule, or his recent campaign activities, you see a busy president focused on governing and fundraising. But online, Barack Obama has begun to look more like a liberal candidate—or at least like an incumbent with lots of liberal friends.
While the 2012 race is filled with talk of Super PACs and TV ads, the Obama Campaign is buoyed by an online video operation that remains unparalleled in American politics. The campaign generates more videos and, more importantly, more viewers than any other candidate. At 178 million total views, for example, Obama’s YouTube channel currently has thirty times that of Governor Romney. And lately it has become a key avenue for Obama to make distinctly liberal appeals.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem has only been to the White House once this term (for a civil rights concert in 2010), but she just starred in a YouTube video touting Women for Obama.
"He understands that women are absolutely full human beings," Steinem says in an interview recorded by the campaign. The video drew about 55,000 views since its release last week.
Another new video features Elizabeth Warren, a liberal favorite, in "extra footage" from her interviews for the campaign’s seventeen-minute video about Obama’s handling of the economic crisis, which was directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim. Meanwhile, since Planned Parenthood was thrust into national politics this year, Obama turned to YouTube so he could offer a targeted "message to Planned Parenthood Supporters" last week. "Women are not an interest group," he intones, stressing that "protecting women’s health is a mission that stands above politics, and yet over the past year you’ve had to stand up to politicians who wanted to deny millions of women the care they rely on."
While Obama does not do as much intimate, retail campaigning as his GOP rivals, the campaign also uses YouTube to publicize his small meetings with supporters. In a grassroots twist on fundraising, Obama and Michelle dine with the winners of the campaign’s small-dollar fundraising contests, and the campaign picks a few highlights of the evening for its recap videos. The productions have a warm, backstage feel. In the most recent one, Michele asks Obama if he’s going to leave his jacket behind and go casual for the dinner. "I am," he replies, "that’s how I roll."
While the campaign’s recent videos are mostly positive and focused on Obama’s achievements, there are also some tougher attack videos.
Like the other spots, these are attacks that aim primarily at the concerns of base voters, not independents. In advance of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the Affordable Health Care Act, the campaign released a rapid-fire video called "Republicans are desperate to kill health care reform – help stop them." It’s all red meat: ominous clips of Republican candidates attacking health care play against an urgent crescendo in the background, and the screen features the declaration that "Being a woman won’t be a pre-existing condition." The final clip shows Romney laying down the law: "If I’m president," he says, "I will repeal Obamacare and I’ll kill it dead." The screen flashes an outraged rhetorical question—"’Kill it dead?’"—and tells viewers that "the best way to stop them" is donating to Obama. That’s the clearest proof that the ad is for the base; videos targeting undecideds only ask for votes, the second-most important thing in elections.
Below are two recent YouTube videos from the Obama campaign, followed by the latest TV ad, released Monday.