6 Best Moments of Obama's Letterman Appearance

The joke, the earnestness, the heart-shaped potato, the remark on Afghanistan troop commitments and more

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The strange capstone of President Obama's record-setting media onslaught this week was his appearance last night on the Late Show with David Letterman. How did he perform? Early reviews grade him paradoxically as both "serious" and "joking," with nearly everyone praising Obama for one particularly deft line. To Letterman's question about whether Jimmy Carter's explanation that criticism of him was a result of racism, Obama parried, "I was actually black before the election."

There were, however, some serious moments. Obama pivoted from humor to make a pitch for health care reform, and to express some reservation about boosting troop levels in Afghanistan as General McChrystal has urged. Facing a series of tough foreign policy conversations in the United Nations General Assembly and the G20, Obama ended the night in a heavier mood.

The six best moments:
  • The Potato, insists Michael D. Shear at the Washington Post. "The star of the show might not have been the president. Instead, an audience member from Missouri named Mary Apple became the funny moment of the night. Before Obama arrived, Letterman had made fun of Apple for bringing a heart-shaped potato with her -- the same wrinkly one that she had brought to the show two years earlier."
  • The Joke, writes Alex Pareene at Gawker. Pareene brushes aside serious interpretations of the appearance to say that entertainment was the evening's main mission. "[I]t's his job, as President, to flatter the nation, basically. And Letterman is not a place for a Serious Discussion of Racial Issues, though it tends to be a much better forum for serious discussion than any of the DC Sunday shows."
  • The Seriousness, writes Jimmy Orr in the Christian Science Monitor. Orr describes Obama's one major laugh line, but suggests that the overwhelming impression was one of earnestness. "Obama’s appearance on Letterman wasn’t exactly a night at the improv. That’s not to say he was boring or that watching paint dry is more exciting."
  • The Dismissal of Racism, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. Though strongly equivocal, he nevertheless praises Obama for pushing aside Carter's idea that protests against him were racially-motivated. "Probably The One’s best statement to date in distancing himself from the left’s racial demagoguery — especially his reminder that the country did, after all, elect him president."
  • The Hesitation on Sending Troops to Afghanistan, suggests Josh Gerstein at Politico. Despite reports that McChrystal has argued for more troops, "the president sounded far from convinced that adding troops was the best solution."
  • The Politicization of Letterman, suggests Bill Carter at the New York Times. Carter says that Letterman leans more visibly left since engaging in "contretemps" with John McCain and Sarah Palin. One longtime late-night production executive, speaking anonymously because of associations with competing programs, said: 'Dave is wearing his views on his sleeve now. Is he going out on a limb? Why not? What’s he got to lose?'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.