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Obama should Auto-Tune his campaign

By Eric Cunningham, Special to CNN
  • Eric Cunningham: Obama must re-energize the youth vote that helped put him in office
  • Today, young people get news from Colbert Report, Twitter, Tumblr, Gawker, he says
  • Cunningham: If elections have something fun to rally around, young people will respond

Editor's note: Eric Cunningham is a writer and television producer in New York City. He is also the founder of the political comedy group, Watch Cunningham on CNN Newsroom Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Six a.m. isn't an hour most young people check their Twitter feeds. If we're checking anything at all, it's to see if the shower's warm enough. But 6 a.m. Monday is when President Obama decided to release a YouTube video formally announcing that "Yes, We Can" vote for him in 2012, if we feel like it.

The message of the video is clear: Get energized again. In 2008, young people were energized, came on strong to the polls and when they voted, broke for Obama even stronger. Obama supporters, ages 18 to 29, outnumbered young McCain supporters by more than 2-to-1, and 2008 saw the largest youth voter movement since the year 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote.

This time around, can Obama lean on young people as hard as he did in 2008? Well, it depends -- not on the president, but on cats who play keyboards.

Young people today don't get informed about politics the way young people did even 15 years ago. The idea of watching the nightly news or reading a real dead-tree newspaper is foreign. It's saying, "Well, here's what the news was."

But Jon Stewart makes [the news] funnier than Brian Williams can.
--Eric Cunningham

The Colbert Report, Twitter, Tumblr, Gawker, YouTube, Facebook -- these are the sources that young people use for news. You're not going to find a citation-filled report on campaign finance reform on any of those. But you will find memes that cater to the instant gratification that only jokes can provide.

It started in 2000. The pitch-perfect impressions of a robotic Al Gore and a fratty George W. Bush on "Saturday Night Live" let Americans skip the time-intensive task of processing hours of debate footage, by boiling it down to an entertaining 7 minutes.

Jon Stewart has continued to carry that torch, distilling the 24-hour news cycle into a manageable 30 minutes. But doesn't the network newscast do that too? Sure. But Jon Stewart makes it funnier than Brian Williams. Sorry -- funnier than Brian Williams chooses to make it.

With more and more young people getting their news from these comedy shows, the shows have become an intellectual currency. Last year when Stewart took a moment to shame Congress into passing the 9/11 First Responders Health Bill. Stewart's routine on the bill was so effective, not because that night saw a huge spike in viewership, but because morning following the show's broadcast, blogs and Twitter feeds had the clip ready for sharing all over the internet.

Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear drew more young people to the event -- including those watching on TV -- than any other real protest at the time. And it was really just a live version of a TV show.

If elections have something fun to rally around, young people will respond. In 2008, politics was cool, as was knowing what newspapers Sarah Palin liked to read (all of them) and what dance moves Barack Obama busted out on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (The uncle-at-a-wedding-reception shimmy). For a brief few months, the internet was awash in political memes. Sarah Palin gaffes, Joe Biden gaffes, Joe the Plumber confronting Obama, more Sarah Palin gaffes -- these were what young people were talking about because they were fun to talk about.

Then as soon as America saw the end of "silly season," as the president put it, we were back to Keyboard Cat, Auto-Tuning Christian Bale and the Balloon Boy.

So if Obama wants to get his message out to young people again, he should keep putting up plenty of YouTube videos for us -- even at a pre-Tweeting hour. If not, Keyboard Cat might be playing as he walks offstage.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Eric Cunningham.