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John Boehner, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, apparently does not understand what a “video contest” is

On August 19th, The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius announced the “Healthy Young America Video Contest.”  The contest is being run by a group named “Young Invincibles” and its goals are to promote the positive aspects of the Affordable Care act and to encourage young Americans to sign up for health insurance.  The contest is small and harmless (only $30,000 in prizes are at stake) but conservatives started tearing the project apart as soon as it was launched.  One of the very first “entries” came from the office of the Speaker of House, John Boehner.  On August 22nd, his team posted this “entry” for the Affordable Care Act video contest on Boehner’s official, government-funded, blog:


According to CNN.com, “Those seven million are expected to come specifically from employment-based coverage and many of them, the CBO anticipates, will be joining the insurance exchanges that the ACA setup instead.”  But I guess that little detail got left off the poster because it’s funnier to scare people into thinking that they might not have health insurance because of the ACA.

Apparently John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the highest-ranking Republican in the United States of America does not understand that you can’t submit a POSTER to a VIDEO contest.  And what’s really disturbing is that even though the media has pointed out the fact that photoshopped posters are not videos, Boehner has gone on to sarcastically “submit” two more posters to the contest.  Now obviously, John Boehner isn’t sitting at his computer, designing these images himself.  (The man doesn’t even understand how to properly operate a spray-tanning booth so we can assume that Photoshop is probably way over his head.)  It looks like the entries are being designed and posted by Boehner’s Digital Communications Director, Caleb Smith. But Boehner has been proudly promoting the posters on Twitter.



I get what these guys are trying to do with these posters but their execution is just lazy and embarrassing.  If Team Boehner had actually made an effort to create a sarcastic video for the Young Invincibles contest, it could have been a really clever burn on the President.  even refers to himself as a “Video Storyteller” on twitter.  I’m sure the guy knows Final Cut Pro or iMove.  All he had to do was animate the layers of the posters he made and add some condescending voice over and boom, Speaker Boehner’s got a legitimate entry that they contest organizers would actually have to accept or reject.

But I think what really bothers me here is the fact that Speaker’s Communications Department clearly understands that they have been pretending to submit goofy posters to a contest that only accepts video submissions.  But to paraphrase Adam Savage Dr. Who, they have decided to reject reality and substitute their own.  Here’s a quote from the Speaker’s blog that explains their motivations.

“Young Americans know the least about” ObamaCare, and we’re fixing to do something about that. Not only that, we’re doing it in style by joining the Obama administration’s health ad contest, in which citizens are encouraged to create a song, or a graphic or a video” about this ‘wonderful’ law.

The “Young Invicibles” contest has three categories.  Contestants can submit a video of themselves performing a song, an animation or a video about how young people are “not invincible.”   But it turns out that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a little slip-up when she first announced the contest.  In the middle of her speech about the video contest she misspoke and used the word “graphic” instead of “animation.”  Any reasonable, thoughtful human being who watched or who read about the announcement in the paper or who checked out the contest’s website or who read the official rules would understand what she meant.  But I guess the folks who work in John Boehner’s Communications Department are not reasonable, thoughtful people.  They pounced on Sebelius’ quote and then distorted the facts of the contest to fit their own goals.  They wanted to mock “Obamacare” but they didn’t want to spend a whole afternoon making a video.  So they just ignored the fact that this is unquestionably a video contest and present one, misspoken word as the truth.  The Speaker’s blog doesn’t even mention the competition’s real name since that would make their joke-posters look pretty stupid.  Instead they refer to the Young Invicibles’ “Healthy Young America Video Contest” as the “Obama administration’s health care ad contest.”

This whole dumb story is actually a perfect example of one of the things that’s wrong with the modern republican party.  If the right can’t back up their beliefs with facts, they have to twist and distort the truth so it appears to support their claims.  Remember this motto from the 2nd day of the 2012 Republican National Convention?

Fun Fact: The 2012 convention was held in a convention center built with public funds

Fun Fact: The 2012 RNC convention was held in a convention center built with public funds

For a whole day, a litany of right-wing speakers bashed President Obama because he said that if you have a small business in America, “You didn’t build that.”  Though President Obama really did use the exact phrase “you didn’t build that” it was clear to anyone who read the full quote that he meant that individuals didn’t build public roads or the Internet.  And hardcore political junkies even recognized that President Obama was just delivering a clunkier version of an impromptu remark from Elizabeth Warren that went viral in 2011.

So here’s what the President actually said:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Someone at FOX & Friends realized that if they took the quote out of context and only played the line “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that” they could distort what the president meant without technically misquoting him.  So FOX ran the part of the line that made President Obama look bad and they cut out the part that explained what he meant.  According to Media Matters, “In the two days that followed Fox’s initial misrepresentation of Obama’s remarks, the network devoted 42 segments and more than two hours of airtime to misrepresenting Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remarks.”  And so, the “you didn’t build that” myth was born and eventually a giant “We did build that!” sign was erected above the stage of the 2012 Republican national Convention.  Even though independent fact-checkers excoriated FOX news, and even though every person who spoke at the RNC Convention probably understood what President Obama actually mean, they all decided that they were going to stick with the lie they had concocted because it was politically convenient.

And that’s why this story about John Boehner’s posters is worth talking about.  It’s not just some random joke. We now live in a country where one of the two major parties has decided that the truth is open to interpretation and that it can be twisted whenever a gimmick needs a little support.  The president makes an awkward statement and that quote gets warped and misrepresented and eventually it becomes one of the main themes of the 2012 RNC convention.  And if the Secretary of Health and Human Services has a slip of the tongue and says one wrong word then the Speaker of the House of the United States of America can flat out misrepresent reality just so he can make a cheap, intellectually dishonest joke on his blog.

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