Psaki nation is in mourning. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she will likely leave her post by next year to spend more time with her family, including her two young children. “I don’t want to miss moments. I don’t want to miss things, and I’m very mindful of that as well,” Psaki told CNN’s David Axelrod. The White House Press Secretary gig is notorious for burnout, and Psaki made it clear from the jump that she didn’t intend to hold on to the post for very long, telling the New York Times in January, “I think there frankly needs to be diverse spaces and voices as communicators. Women, certainly, but beyond that.”
Despite the predictability of it all, Psaki’s biggest supporters are voicing what might best be described as grief, an outpouring that’s representative of an emergent online subculture: Jen Psaki superfans.
These are the online subset of Democratic Party loyalists acting as resident Twitter cheerleaders for all things President Biden, including Psaki. Their mission is simple: Gas up the major players of the Biden White House and snarl at its enemies, whether they’re Republican politicians or right-wing journalists. With Biden busy behind the scenes (and refraining from tweeting out every little thought, unlike his predecessor) and Vice President Kamala Harris focused on meeting world leaders and walking a lot, Psaki—the most front-facing representative of Biden’s administration—has become a natural figure to latch onto, in the most extreme cases inspiring memes, fevered tweets, and even a small but surely growing bit of Psaki fanfiction.
The “yas queen” energy of it all makes her competency not only into a likable trait, but somehow a heroic one as well.
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The most typical of Psaki’s vocal aficionados are of the average pundit variety. “Really sad and disappointing news that Press Secretary Jen Psaki plans on stepping down later this year or early next year,” tweeted singer and self-described political junkie Ricky Dalvia, who has amassed a following of over 300,000 thanks to a steady stream of dependable content lambasting the Republican Party. “She’s literally one of the best destroyers of bullshit I’ve ever seen.”
In response to the news, journalist Eric Boehlert plugged an episode of his podcast Press Run, which he recorded one month prior, in which he praises Psaki’s tenacity and wit, particularly in the face of ever-needling Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, who is regarded among Psaki fans as her unofficial nemesis. “She’s our real-life C.J. Cregg who has bought smarts and wit back to the White House briefing room, after four years of the Trump infection, where mindless sycophants at the podium waged war on the free press,” he said, referring to Press Secretary Cregg from liberal favorite The West Wing, portrayed by actor Allison Janney.
He continued, “Working hard to reestablish an open, professional relationship with the Beltway press corps, Psaki has perhaps done more than anyone in the administration — including Biden himself — in terms of changing the tone in our politics, and creating a new path forward towards a transparent form of government, in the wake of the Trump’s ransacking of the norms.”
Evan Hurst at Wonkette was a touch more graphic: “Press Secretary Jen Psaki is kind of badass at her job, and it’s because of the extremely non-combative way she is just FINISHED WITH YOUR SHIT. It’s just like... some kind of assassin thing where some idiot asks her an idiot question and she handles it so quickly and quietly and effectively, the poor idiot’s liver is bleeding out before they even feel a thing.”
Psaki is very good at her job. She’s professional and affable, and the fact that she doesn’t appear to resent the very existence of free press puts her in significantly better standing than the revolving door of compulsive liars who held Psaki’s job during the Trump administration: Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the largely absent Stephanie Grisham, and, finally, Kayleigh McEnany. Whether this bare minimum warrants admiration is a question that, when posed to her loyal fans, is likely to receive a resounding “yes!”
The burgeoning Psaki fandom revved up on January 29, following a press briefing in which Psaki brushed off questions about Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (“We don’t want to elevate conspiracy theories further in the briefing room, and I’ll leave it at that”) and the GameStop short squeeze (“I know it’s a big story, but our focus and our big story is getting the American people back to work.”)
Politicians are always prime for meme fodder: they act as a way to punch up as well as humanize some of the most consequential figures of our age. And it would be hard to get through the most despicable administrations without it a sense of humor. Still, when it comes to fans of a particular politician or figure, it doesn’t take long for breathless support to get, well, a little weird.
“Anytime Jen Psaki dunks on a reporter will henceforth be known as a Psaki Bomb,” tweeted anti-Trump PAC MeidasTouch, a reference to sake bombs, the cocktail with a similar pronunciation.
The #PsakiBomb hashtag has been popular ever since, a one-stop-shop for all things Psaki, from clips of Psaki brusquely responding to a Newsmax reporter just last week to musical skits that test the bounds of embarrassing enthusiasm.
Back in March, Missy Modell, a comedian dedicated to “making the news less scary through parody,” dropped a video parodying Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.” With her hair tied back, Modell mimicked Cyrus’s bold red lip and white tank top combination from the memorable 2013 music video, singing, “She came in like a Psaki bomb/yeah, she’s nothing like that robot blonde/or a Huckabee or dancing Sean/she handles questions, refreshingly.”
While Modell’s only crime here is posting cringe, it plays into a larger trend of Americans treating politicians like celebrities as opposed to consequential state actors. Women, in particular, are prone to having their basic competency fetishized by well-meaning supporters, which says something about the gender inequity of national politics and also proves the bar is in hell.
“My new GIRL crush is a redhead with freckles....hardly any make-up......wears appropriate clothes......SMART as hell and sexy AF. Anyone agree?” tweeted one enthusiastic Biden-Harris fan. There was plenty of agreement in the replies: “She has this sexy C.J. Cregg vibe going;” “Yes, but I am admittedly sapiosexual;” “You’ll have to fight me for her;” “If I were younger and not so ugly & she weren’t married, I’d ask her out;” “Substance. Intelligence. Nerd Beauty. 100%;” “Never even knew I liked redheads.”
Already, there are a couple of Psaki fancams and at least one fanfiction, which follows a Fox News reporter who is secretly liberal, secretly lesbian, and secretly in love with Psaki. There is also a Twitter account called @PsakiPsimp dedicated to, well, simping for Jen Psaki. “Jen Psaki is a national treasure and must be protected at all costs,” reads the bio.
We certainly saw similar behavior during the Trump era, with Trump supporters rendering the former president into everything from an American folk hero to the destroyer of child sex trafficking and New World Order corruption courtesy of Qanon. But if any political affiliation tends towards standom, it’s American liberals. The fervent excitement around Psaki is more reminiscent of the Obama obsessives, who ranged from casual internet warriors ready to defend his administration and its actors at the drop of the hat, to the Very Online who built parasocial relationships with the most powerful man in the world and his staffers. This is exactly what happened at the long-dormant Livejournal community Rahmbamarama, where devotion to President Obama and his then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was a must, and smut fanfic about the two and other members of the Obama White House was optional, but certainly encouraged.
The fanatical nature of it all became a lot less fun when Emanuel was revealed to be an Affordable Care Act skeptic and, eventually, became one of the nation’s most reviled mayors. (On Tuesday, President Biden appointed him Ambassador to Japan.) But for a time, the excitement of the shiny and new Obama administration was palpable, embraced everywhere from oddball online communities to television programs like The Daily Show. Like the Biden years, the Obama tenure followed a controversial and devastating era of Republican rule. It’s easy to see similar post-Bush energy excite the Biden administration’s loudest fans post-Trump, whether it’s fawning segments about President Biden or fancams and gushing tweets about Psaki that could give the #KHive a run for their money.
And MeidasTouch, the PAC that coined #PsakiBomb, wasted no time turning their moniker into merch for a profit. They now sell Psaki Bomb shirts and mugs.
There are a lot worse things than Democrats and their obsession with regarding every Democratic administration as a West Wing spin-off. But lost in the so-called badassery of Psaki is a simple fact: Psaki is ultimately a mouthpiece for the Biden administration. While it takes serious skill to competently interact with the White House press corps, that alone gives us little insight into Psaki herself. We don’t know what she thinks or feels on most matters, because knowing what she thinks or feels is not part of her job description. When Psaki was, inevitably, asked about the uptick in violence in Gaza and Jerusalem or Israeli police attacking Palestinian demonstrators during Tuesday’s daily presser, we didn’t find out how she feels about the matter, only what her bosses believe.
Prior to becoming Biden’s White House Press Secretary, Psaki worked within the Obama administration for years and, from 2015 to 2017, provided political commentary for CNN. Psaki’s loyalty to Democratic party politics isn’t a mystery, but if time has taught us anything, it’s that what former Democratic White House Press Secretaries do after their stint that can be the most revealing. Obama’s first White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, went on to become the chief communications officer at McDonald’s in the midst of a very public push by workers to improve working conditions and pay. And just last month, Jay Carney, who acted as Obama’s White House Press Secretary from 2011-2014, accused Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders of spreading disinformation about anti-union commerce giant Amazon, where he acts as vice president of global corporate affairs.
This isn’t to say that Psaki will pivot to soulless corporate ghoul once her tenure at the Biden administration is over. But I’ll be holding off on stanning or anything beyond the cursory acknowledgment of her capacity to ward off pesky Fox News reporters until I feel anything beyond basic relief that she’s able to hold a presser with an iota of sense.
(Updated 3/2/22 with new details)