President Barack Obama's biggest problem when it comes to selling the American public on the so-far rocky rollout of his health care law isn't John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or even Ted Cruz. It's Jon Stewart.
Stewart, the host of the wildly popular Daily Show on Comedy Central, has emerged as a harsh critic of healthcare.gov and the Obama administration's inability to fix it.
Stewart dedicated the entire first 10 minutes of his show — three full segments — on Monday to slashing hits on the website and the president's handling of the problems. He compared Obama to "Gil", the hapless salesman from The Simpsons, showed Daily Show correspondent John Oliver stuck in a computer after trying to sign up for Obamacare and expressed amazement that even the calculator on the healthcare.gov website doesn't work. (And, remember, Stewart was heavily critical of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during an appearance on his show earlier this month.)
Who cares what a late night comedian/talk show host thinks? Obama should if viewership details on Stewart's show are right.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, The Daily Show has the second largest share of young viewers — aged 18-29 — of any of the 24 media outlets tested. (The only one with a higher number of young viewers was The Colbert Report.)
Obama and his administration have made it quite clear that one of the big beneficiaries of the law should be young people. "Already, millions of young adults have been able to stay on their parents' plans until they turn 26," Obama trumpeted in a speech defending the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 1. On Monday, in an address designed to calm worries about the problems with the healthcare.gov website, Obama specifically referenced three young people standing behind him who had been able to stay on their parents' insurance until they were 26 and added: "Millions of other young people are currently benefiting from that part of the law."
But, these same young people tend to get much of their news — and therefore have their opinions shaped — not by places like the Washington Post or the CBS Evening News but rather from Stewart. He is their Tom Brokaw, their David Brinkley. So, what Stewart says matters — a lot.
How might Obama solve his "Stewart" problem? Maybe appear on the show — as he has done six times before, including twice as president. Stewart would, undoubtedly, challenge Obama on the problems with the site but would also give the president a platform by which he could address the growing public perception that the law (or at least the website) just isn't working.
Chris Cillizza is founder and editor of The Fix, a Washington Post blog on politics. He is the author of "The Gospel According to the Fix: An Insider's Guide to a Less than Holy World of Politics" and an MSNBC contributor and political analyst. He also regularly appears on NBC and NPR's "The Diane Rehm Show."
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