Four Obama Bros Explain Politics to Me

By Zizzy Murphy ’19

Media Analyst

I block out time every other Friday night for a trip to West Hollywood. At first, I tried my hardest to convince people from campus that witnessing a “gay Jewish disaster and former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett yell at you and maybe even seeing celebrities that you know on there” (like Sasheer Zamata of SNL or Roxane Gay) was enough of reason to skip out on Claremont for the night, but it has yet to work. Instead, I have made new friends through these outings to the live tapings of Lovett or Leave It, a “very loose” weekly comedy podcast featuring a panel of guests who range from activists to comedians to journalists, including all possible permutations of the three.

Lovett or Leave It exists under the company Crooked Media. Established in 2017 in the wake of 2016 presidential election, its founders are Jon Favreau, former head speechwriter for President Obama; Jon Lovett, speechwriter as noted and showrunner of the overlooked NBC comedy 1600 Penn; and Tommy Vietor, former US National Security Council spokesperson. The most popular Crooked pod is easily Pod Save America, the flagship program that is a twice weekly breakdown of current political news, which also features Dan Pfeiffer, who served as senior advisor to President Obama.

Crooked Media podcasts are the exact kind of thing I should hate; they exist in a realm of politics that I had long since given up on as a progenitor for any sort of “real” change. They are not the kind of thing I will ever bring up in campus organizing spaces or political theory classes, classes in which I have critiqued speeches of Obama, aided and abetted by both Favreau and Lovett. Yet, I can not stop listening.

The ease with which they navigate policy, the camaraderie between them, and the way that they make you feel in on the joke of what a farce our government currently is prove irresistible when combined. They’ve often been spoken of as left’s answer to conservative talk radio(the Rush Limbaugh types) but there’s something more holistic in Crooked’s approach that is missing in that comparison. Whereas Infowars and its ilk seem to occupy a space adjacent to reality, the pod bros are steeped in the here and now, negging each other on Twitter, posting videos of their dogs on Instagram, and, most crucially, agitating. They tour, they canvas, they call senators and talk to candidates; it’s entirely possible that they should be credited for the first shutdown over the dreamers. The hosts themselves hold immense social capital, and, with an audience of roughly 1.5 million, Crooked seems poised to only continue growing in influence.

It’s despicably easy to take issue with Crooked Media – four white (as if the world of podcasting weren’t white enough!), well-off men who have clearly grown fond of the sound of their own voices seem to be the exact thing that we need less of in this moment. But there is also a deeper level of unsettlement in their rhetoric and vigor, the part of it that triggers in me an impulse to romanticize the days before 45 as though those were not full of deportations, police violence, and mass incarceration, as though the work would have been done had Hillary been elected. I’m reminded of the protest sign that “if Hillary were president, we’d be at brunch,” and I know that that’s true for many listeners.  I am more bluntly reminded of the recent left edits of Obama’s presidential portrait in which his background of lush greenery is replaced by drones.

I want to believe there is a path to walk between the two, and would wager that there is almost a necessity for such. We’re allowed to count small victories as long as we see bandaid solutions for what they are. That’s just a part of organizing. It’s worth taking the time to understand the audience captivated by the Crooked Media crew and to praise their mobilization; that doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with male hero-worship and undying patriotism. Like any other up-and-coming millennial brand, Crooked Media sells enough t-shirts to make it through two weeks without doing the wash. There is no requirement that you buy that many or any at all. The podcasts are free to download– do with them what you will.

Photo Courtesy of The Michigan Daily