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Romnesia Is the New Truthiness: Obama Learns a Lesson From Colbert

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By now you have probably seen the video where President Obama refers to Romney's complete forgetting of his previous political stances as "Romnesia." Obama supporters are finding this wordplay a breath of fresh air in an election that has seemed to stumble, most notoriously with the first round of Presidential debates. After a relatively dull campaign Obama is getting new energy and new life. And he is doing it by following the example of master wordplay satirist, Stephen Colbert.

In case you missed it, watch video here:

The recent pro-Obama spark started with Romney's gaffe phrase "binders full of women" during the second presidential debate -- a phrase Romney used to refer to the difficulty he had finding qualified women to serve in his Massachusetts cabinet. It was meant to reveal his concern for women in the workplace, but it backfired and left many thinking Romney was both sexist and completely unaware of the realities of women today. The phrase virtually exploded across social media and led to a still ongoing series of "Binders full of women" memes, not the least of which is the Facebook page created before the debate had even ended and liked by 250,000 people in its first 24 hours.

Obama caught the wave and followed the "binders full of women" gaffe by using a smart, funny neologism, Romnesia -- a reference to the idea that Romney cannot even remember his previous policy statements. And the result is a real boost of pro-Obama energy in social media, in public discourse, and in the realm of catchy slang that attracts young voters. Needless to say, the twitter hashtag #Romnesia is thoroughly viral, and its presence in social media is complementing the "binders full of women" memes.

Young voters remain the question in this race and, unlike in the 2008 campaign, Obama has yet to thoroughly engage them. Phrases like "Romnesia" are sure to help him connect with those young voters he so desperately needs to win. And a quick scan through the twitter feed shows that this phrase is having the effect of reminding young voters of the Obama that is hip, cool, smart, and on their side. Even though the phrase was first used back in March, it has been Obama's recent use of it in a speech that launched it to viral status.

While we can't be sure if the result of Obama using a neologism will serve to bring out the youth vote until the results are in on Election Day, we can be sure that it shows that Obama has finally learned a lesson from Stephen Colbert -- witty neologisms can go a long way to helping you engage and energize your audience. When Colbert launched his show in 2005, he introduced the neologism "truthiness." If you haven't seen it, watch the clip here:

One of the key features of Colbert's particular version of satire is his wordplay -- most visibly present in his recurring segment "The Wørd," but also obvious in the flow of words that swirl around his opening show graphics. All satirists want to get their audiences to think critically about things they have come to take for granted. And all satirists use smart language to mock their way into the audience's critical consciousness. But it would be fair to say, that Colbert has had particular success at this. Truthiness was named the Word of the Year by Webster's in 2006 --a sign of how it entered everyday language and made a major public impact. And other Colbertisms, like Wikiality, have also been powerful linguistic tools.

Colbert is not just notorious for his neologisms; he is also a master at reaching a young audience. It was not long ago that he encouraged his viewers to tweet round-the-clock non-facts about Jon Kyl, who had explained his misstatement about Planned Parenthood statistics as "not intended to be a factual statement." The call led to 18 million tweets in a one-hour period in the first day.

Obama has finally learned from Colbert that neologisms are not just snappy ways of packaging important ideas; they are also ways to get your supporters to play an active role in spreading them. Colbert has taught us that these new words are not just about him; they are about what the public does with them once they are released into the public domain. What makes them powerful is not that they are connected to perceptions of politicians or fake pundits. What makes them powerful is that they are used actively by citizens to comment on political issues. The point is that they become active tools of critical commentary by citizens thinking through the issues of the election. They start in the mouths of pubic figures but they then fall under the control of the people.

Examples of #Romensia tweets include this one: "Are you suffering from Romnesia? Call the law offices of Binder and Binder." Or this one: "If you believe that someone whose state was 47th in job creation is an accomplished 'job creator', you might just have #Romnesia." Even "serious" twitter users like Forbes are playing the game with tweets like "Does #Obamacare cure #Romnesia?" These tweets are jokes that pack a political punch, because they speak truth to power while allowing us to have fun.

Maybe Romnesia will be Obama's truthiness. Either way it is good to see him learning from an expert on how to get young people to think critically and engage with politics.

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