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John Boehner, Politics and the nuance of Taylor Swift GIFs

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For an excellent example of how not to use the web to make a point one need look no further than Speaker of the House John Boehner. The Republican from Ohio took to the internet to lay out his argument against President Barack Obama's plan to provide free community college to millions of Americans. His chosen medium for conveying that message? Taylor Swift GIFs. Now, whether or not Swift endorsed the use of her image for spreading a political message is beside the point (though, I'm sure nobody asked her). What's more important is that the man who is next in line for the presidency after the vice president reduced a complex political argument to a series of 12 only barely appropriate animated GIFs.

The man behind the post is likely Caleb Smith, Boehner's digital communications director. Smith is in his late 20s and certainly more in touch with the culture of the web than the 65-year-old Boehner. But there is a problem: Smith's goal was almost certainly irreverence, but the attempt at levity instead comes off as glib. And therein lies the danger of politicians using the medium of the moment to get their message across.

My reaction to political arguments made in reaction GIFs

My reaction to people using reaction GIFs to make a political argument.

This is hardly the first time Boehner's office has used the beloved and bemoaned GIF to try and score political points. He famously used eight shark GIFs to promote the House's jobs bill in August and even took to BuzzFeed in April to vent frustration over attempts to get a budget passed using loops from How I Met Your Mother. But let's not beat up on Boehner too much. He's hardly alone in his quest to turn internet memes into a political soapbox. The Republican Party put together a series of creepy videos intended to go viral to denounce Obamacare in 2013, and countless candidates from both parties have attempted to build viral campaigns purely for the sake of going viral, with little concern for the actual message or content. Even the first lady, Michelle Obama, took to Vine to promote... well, I'm not exactly sure, with her "turnip for what" clip.

I would never argue that politicians shouldn't use the various tools and media available to them on the internet to communicate their positions or conduct campaigns. That would just be silly. And I'm not going to pretend that political discourse in America used to strive for some lofty ideal of intellectual rhetoric. Hell, in 1800 John Adams' campaign suggested that if Thomas Jefferson won the election "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced." But, what I will suggest is that when politicians make the currency of virality a priority, the best they can hope for is to look silly. And at worst, they end up making glib arguments in the same medium in which we here at Engadget say goodbye to departing colleagues.

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