Friday, May 25, 2018
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For Obama, 'Daily Show' host's puns no laughing matter

WASHINGTON - If you are President of the United States and you take your campaign get-out-the-vote blitz to a fake news program, do you get tweaked, or do you get a pass?

You get tweaked, as President Obama found Wednesday when he made his first appearance as President on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. As host Jon Stewart needled him, the President said he never promised transformational change overnight.

"You ran on very high rhetoric, hope, and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on, 'Please, baby, one more chance,'•" Stewart said at one point. At another, he wondered aloud whether Mr. Obama had traded the audacity of 2008 for pragmatism in 2010, offering a platform of "Yes, we can, given certain conditions."

Mr. Obama paused. "I think I would say, 'Yes, we can, but … "

Stewart, laughing, cut him off. The President pushed on. "But it's not going to happen overnight."

The gentle ribbing was perhaps a price the White House was willing to pay for the chance to reach Stewart's valuable audience - young people who turned out in droves for the President but are now dissatisfied with him. Mr. Obama is spending the waning days of the elec-tion season trying to motivate that crowd to get to the polls, and he closed the interview by urging them to do just that, telling Stewart he wanted to make "a plug just to vote."

Mr. Obama barely cracked any jokes, despite Stewart's efforts to draw out the President's humorous side with a few of his own wisecracks.

"Are you disappointed in how it's gone?" Stewart asked.

Mr. Obama seemed to suggest that he wasn't. He said his advisers had told him during the euphoria of his 2008 election to "enjoy this now because two years from now folks are going to be frustrated. That is, in fact, what's happening."

He listed as reasons a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, sinking housing values, and an economy that is growing but not fast enough. But Mr. Obama said his administration has stabilized the economy, noting it has grown for nine months in a row. He also signed major health care and financial legislation.

Less than a week before the critical Nov. 2 congressional elections, Mr. Obama said he hopes Democratic lawmakers who made tough votes will be rewarded with another term in office. He pledged more accomplishments in the two years left on his own term in the Oval Office and urged people to vote - early if they can.

Stewart pressed the President with the standard liberal critique, accusing him of pursuing a legislative agenda that "felt timid at times" - a characterization Mr. Obama fiercely disputed.

The President wound up defending his health bill, members of Congress, and even his administration members. When Stewart asked why Mr. Obama, after promising to shake things up, had brought in old Democratic hands such as Lawrence Summers, the Clinton Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama offered what was perhaps an unfortunate reply.

"In fairness," he said, "Larry Summers did a heck of a job."

"You don't want to use that phrase, dude," Stewart responded.

In 2005, President George W. Bush used the phrase to describe the job his emergency management director, Michael Brown, was doing after Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters had devastated New Orleans.

Late-night TV has come a long way since Bill Clinton, then a presidential candidate, played his sax on Arsenio Hall's show in 1992. The lines between entertainment and news are increasingly blurred - in part because Mr. Obama has been willing to bring his presidential platform to settings his predecessors might have viewed as unconventional.

As President, he has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman; over the summer, he dished with the doyennes of daytime TV on ABC's The View.

The Daily Show interview was taped in the run-up to a rally Stewart and his fellow Comedy Central host, Stephen Colbert, are hosting Saturday on the National Mall. It went longer than anticipated - so long, in fact, that the show's producers decided to cut the original introduction Stewart taped, which featured a riff of the host fiddling with a pen and tapping his fingers, making the President wait in the wings.

In the interview, Mr. Obama conceded he understands the feeling among his supporters that he has not fundamentally changed the way Washington does business.

"When we promised during the campaign change you can believe in, it wasn't change you can believe in, in 18 months," he said. "It was change you can believe in - but we're going to have to work for it."

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