Everyone had high expectations when President Obama went on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”
Somehow Obama and Stewart would show how the Republicans are to blame for the failed near-$1 trillion stimulus, the $1 trillion in bad loans at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the economic disruptions from the $1 trillion health-care plan.
Somehow they would show that national-security domestic wiretappings had stopped, that terrorist-prisoner renditions were no more, that no American is targeted for assassination, and that Guantanamo prison really is closed.
The seriously impossible. Somehow they would prove the Iraq war freed no one, but we stole the oil. They would show the Democrats spent less on the Iraq war than the Republicans. They would show the BP oil spill was handled so much better than Hurricane Katrina. They would even convince us the unemployment rate is falling.
And somehow Obama and Stewart would be funny.
Everyone was disappointed. There were no witty nuggets of wisdom, no stunning revelations. Much of the interview was sweaty-clammy awkward. Funny? Not much.
Obama: “In fairness, Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”
Stewart: “You don’t want to use that phrase, dude.”
“You’re coming from a place, you ran on a very high rhetoric: ‘hope’ and ‘change.’ And the Democrats this year seem to be running on ‘Please, baby, one more chance.’ Are you disappointed in how it’s gone?”
Obama: “You know, when I won and we started the transition, a whole bunch of my political folks came up and said, enjoy this now, because two years from now, folks are going to be frustrated, and that is in fact what happened. … [But] we prevented the second Great Depression. We have passed historic health care reform, historic financial regulatory reform. We have done things that some folks don’t even know about.”
Stewart: “What have you done we don’t know about? Are you planning a surprise party for us?”
Obama: “Over and over again, we have moved forward an agenda that is making a difference in people’s lives every day. Now is it enough? No.”
Stewart: “You’re talking about a list of accomplishments that you’re feel very proud of. The Democratic Party, they don’t seem to be running on the list of accomplishments. Have you convinced your own party that the legislative progress has been enough?
Obama: “Let me say this about members of Congress. …”
Stewart: “Are you going to curse?”
Obama: “No, I’m not going to curse. There are a bunch of folks who, during the course of this year, took a lot of tough votes that they knew were bad politics, because they thought they were the right things to do.”
Stewart: “Is the difficulty that you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you delivered? You ran with such, if I may, audacity.... yet legislatively it has felt timid at times. I’m not sure at times what you even want out of a health-care bill.”
Obama: “Jon, I love your show, but this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you and I don’t want to lump you in with a lot of other pundits. What happens is it gets discounted because the presumption is, well, we didn’t get 100 percent of what we wanted, we got 90 percent of what we wanted -- so let’s focus on the 10 percent we didn’t get.
“Right now there is a woman in New Hampshire who doesn’t have to sell her house to get her cancer treatments because of that health-care bill. She doesn’t think it’s inconsequential.”
Stewart: “The suggestion was not that it’s inconsequential.”
Obama: “Your suggestion was that it was timid.”
Stewart: “Timid…. and I don’t mean to lump you in with other presidents.
“You ran on the idea that this system needed basic reform. It feels like some of the reforms that have passed, like health care, have been done in a very political manner that has papered over a foundation that is corrupt.”
Obama: “That I think is fair. Over the last two years, in an emergency situation, our basic attitude was we’ve got to get some things done, in some cases quickly, [and] in order to do that [we] basically worked with the process as opposed to transformed the process, and that has frustrated folks. It frustrates me.”
Stewart: “The expectation, I think, was audacity going in there and really rooting out a corrupt system, and so the sense is, has [the] reality of what hit you in the face when you first stepped in caused you to back down from some of the more visionary things?”
Obama: “My attitude is if we’re making progress, step by step, inch by inch, day by day, that we are being true to the spirit of that campaign.”
Stewart: “You wouldn’t say you’d run this time as a pragmatist? It wouldn’t be, ‘Yes we can, given certain conditions?’”
Obama: “I think what I would say is yes we can, but …”
Obama: “But it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Tense. Seriously tense. It makes you wonder how much fun Stewart’s Washington, D.C., rally will be today. "Today we rally around our timid president."
I couldn't help but notice how Stewart applies the pseudo-liberal assumption that benefits come from nowhere. He appears to believe that the wealth that fuels progress and the progress that creates wealth come from the wave of a magic wand or from free money or from another no-cost loan from China. It’s irresponsible politics, and inevitably it’s destructive. Just look at Fannie and Freddie (which are exempt from the "historic financial regulatory reform").
In the end, Stewart's laughable politics undermines his humor. Even an insane joke needs some connection to reality -- to sanity.
I wonder why Stewart didn’t ask the president, “OK, you’ve borrowed and spent at least half a trillion and stimulated no new jobs. How much money do you think you’d have to borrow and spend before the unemployment rate dropped? Why don’t you propose borrowing and spending another half trillion? You’ve committed taxpayers to $1 trillion in extra health-care costs over the next 10 years. Why didn’t you commit to $2 trillion in extra costs? Why not? Why not do more unbelieveably expensive things that don't work?”
That seemed to be where Stewart was going. Funny he didn’t ask, but not that funny.