Friday, October 29, 2010

Jon Stewart Kinda Sorta Grills Obama

Everyone's discussing the President's appearance on the Daily Show last night.  Dana Milbank is pretty annoyed about Jon Stewart referring to the President as "dude", but whatever -- this was the most substantive interview Obama's had since Bret Baier grilled him during the Obamacare debate.  As for the "dude" reference, it's bad form, but Obama set up that prospect -- every time the President pops up on a comedy show, the stature of the office drops a bit.  Over at the Baltimore Sun, David Zuwarik's review is just as tough...
During the last half of the show, though, Stewart asked informed and substantive questions that put the president on the defensive. In fact, the questions took the interview to a depth rarely explored on television. What was so revealing, however, about this portion of the show for me was not Obama's predictable "we-inherited-all-the-trouble" rhetoric as he tried to defend his failures, but what a dogmatic leftist critique of Obama's presidency Stewart clearly embraces.

Maybe I was deluding myself because I like the intelligence of Stewart's humor, but I really believed he had a more balanced and centrist take on American life. If the White House was looking for the court jester and mouthpiece of the folks senior White House officials described as the "professional left," they found him. He was sitting across from the president Wednesday night prodding him with all the White House had not done.

And that's the difference, isn't it? The right feels Obama has done way too much without thinking it through -- call it the the cash-for-clunkers style of governing with massive and misguided social programs. The left, meanwhile, thinks he hasn't done enough. He didn't bring the British or Canadian model of health care to America overnight, for example. I think Stewart actually mentioned Canadian healthcare somewhere in his questioning Wednesday.

But he never once seemed to be able to even conceive of a question that would come at the president from right of center -- or even center-center. Think how enriched this interview would have been by even one question from right of center asking about unintended consequences or huge federal spending programs that came nowhere near doing what Obama had promised they would.

The first half of the show wasn't pretty -- in fact, at its worst moments, it almost reminded me a little of Sean Hannity interviewing Sarah Palin during the 2008 election on Fox News.
I think Stewart's a pretty good interviewer, but he has an advantage in that he can ask questions in a manner that real journalists are not allowed to use -- he can actively mock the subject if he so chooses, but also engage the subject from a partisan point of view. He doesn't always do so -- his tonguebathing of John Kerry in 2004 stands out in my meory of a case where he was dealing with a humor-challenged douchebag and backed off on any attempt to conduct an in-depth interview.

But my favorite take on the interview comes from Jonah Goldberg...
What’s interesting — and obvious by my lights — is that Obama barely even noticed the “dude.” He was stung by the fact that Stewart — and the audience — clearly busted the president saying something politically very stupid. Saying that Summers did a “heckuva job” — on the Daily Show! — was a real blunder. Obama is clearly embarrassed that he got busted saying it. And rather than laugh with the audience and at himself he says, entirely unconvincingly, “pun intended.”

No it wasn’t. For the record, it wasn’t even a pun

But Obama’s ego couldn’t let him take it on the chin. So he in effect said “I meant to do that” with that “pun intended” line. It was defensive and lame.
This goes to something I've always believed about our 44th President -- his ego prevents him from laughing at himself.  A self-deprecating sense of humor is something that eludes certain politicians, and Obama misses the chance to poke fun at himself too often for it to be a coincidence, particularly when things aren't going well.  And they aren't going well right now.

And by the way, if Bush had said "Pun intended" when referring to a non-pun, both Stewart and the liberal blogosphere would have jumped on the chance to mock him.

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