Obama on the Daily Show: Sober, Safe, Low-Impact

May have been a mistake to begin a sentence "Yes we can, but"

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On Wednesday, President Obama appeared on The Daily Show, his first time on the program since winning the election in 2008. Host Jon Stewart spoke with Obama for the entire half hour, marking the first time an episode of The Daily Show has consisted of a single interview. Stewart, whose joint rally with fellow comedian Stephen Colbert takes place on the National Mall this weekend, asked a number of polite but pointed questions about how Obama's actions as president have compared with the promises he made as a candidate. At least one sound bite already seems to be on its way to going viral. Given the chance to tweak his famous campaign slogan, Obama offered: "Yes we can, but--" and was interrupted by Stewart's laughter. "Yes we can, but it's not going to happen overnight," the president finished.

  • Stewart: What Happened to the Campaign Magic?  "You ran on very high rhetoric, hope and change. And the Democrats this year seem to be running on 'Please, baby, one more chance,'" said Stewart at one point. Later, he mentioned to Obama "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."

  • Obama: We've Accomplished Major Things  The president took issue with "this notion that health care was timid," noting that "you've got 30 million people who are going to get health insurance as a consequence of this, you've got a Patient's Bill of Rights ... This is what I think most people would say is as significant a piece of legislation as we've seen in this country's history." Elsewhere, he cited the passage of "historic financial regulatory reform" and said his administration has "expanded national service more than at any other time since the Peace Corps."

  • Obama Could Have Made More of This, writes Juan Cole at Informed Comment. "This was the president's chance to rally the youth, who typically don't vote in midterms ... Obama's hair should have been on fire. He should have pointed out all the horrible things the tea party plans to do to young people," says Cole. "Instead he played it safe. I didn't take away a single talking point that seemed to me likely to galvanize people like the students I teach."

  • Give Us a Battle Cry!  Thers at Firedoglake, writing in advance of Obama's appearance, quotes a report of Obama encouraging his supporters to "be patient." The author judges that "a plea for patience is, from a very basic electoral-politics perspective, I believe the technical term is, Teh Suck."

  • Dude, Where's My Progressive Agenda?  The Washington Post's Dana Milbank quotes an exchange between the president and Stewart. Obama: "In fairness, Larry Summers did a heckuva job." Stewart: "You don't want to use that phrase, dude"--alluding to George W. Bush's infamous praise of Michael Brown in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For Milbank, it was a revealing moment: "Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief 'dude' pretty well captured the moment for Obama."

  • How the Media Will Slice and Dice This  Time's Michael Scherer notes that "what is perhaps most interesting about the whole appearance is what it told us about Obama. When he is up against the wall, his response is a retreat to reason. No big campaign rhetoric, no zinging attacks. He gets more humble, and more professorial, less dynamic." But he goes on to say that the media, Stewart included, have a habit of "exploiting soundbites. What will be remembered from this appearance are the stumbles, not the sober framework that contained them."

  • The Appearance: High-Profile, Low-Impact  At The American Spectator, George Neumayr writes that "at a time of high unemployment, Obama is content to play the empty celebrity, appearing on shows as shallow as his policies and delivering trendy messages about the latest anxiety of the coastal elite--the 'gay teen suicide epidemic.'" (For the record, Obama didn't mention teen suicides during his Daily Show interview.)

  • Obama Should Have Stayed Away  Joshua Greenman at the Daily News writes that Obama's appearance on The Daily Show will make the Stewart/Colbert rally seem like "a Democratic Party event, through and through - appearing to opponents every bit as 'Astroturfed' as the biggest Tea Party events seem." Greenman adds that "in truth, I don't think either the Tea Party gatherings or the Rally to Restore Sanity are staged; they're both authentic and filled with genuinely concerned voters. But this is as much about appearance as reality."

  • A Good Match of Guest and Forum  At The Huffington Post, Eric Deggans hopes that "people will stop griping about how such appearances cheapen the Presidency ... Obama long ago realized that our modern media environment requires reaching potential supporters wherever they choose to spend time -- and Stewart's Daily Show offers an awesome repository of liberal-friendly faces to pitch just before an important election."

  • Hey Audience Members, Pipe Down!  Adam Frucci at Splitsider wonders whether "Stewart's audience ruin[ed] his Obama interview." Frucci writes that "when Stewart brings on serious guests and wants to have serious discussions with them, it might make more sense to do it without that live audience. Because when the President of the United States can't get through three sentences without being interrupted by cheering and whooping, it makes everyone watching feel a little bit dumber for being a part of that audience."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.