Jon Stewart calls Obama 'dude' and gets him to amend 'Yes we can'
The biggest laughs from President Obama's visit to Comedy Central's "Daily Show" were not the yucks he had probably hoped for.
Instead of being the jokey mensch host Jon Stewart can sometimes be in New York, when in the presence of the commander-in-chief in Washington, the slightly more serious political critic emerged.
"Is the difficulty that you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you delivered?" Stewart asked Obama. "You ran with such, if I may, audacity. Yet legislatively it has felt timid at times," Stewart said, referring to the compromises the Obama administration made to pass healthcare reform.
In a riveting exchange, the president began his defense by saying he "loved" the show and didn't want to lump Stewart in with other pundits and talk show hosts, but that Stewart was wrong -- very wrong.
"What happens is it gets discounted because the assumption is, 'we didn't get 100% of what we wanted, we only got 90% of what we wanted -- so let's focus on the 10% we didn't get,'" the president said quite seriously and seemingly a bit perturbed.
"You've got 30 million people who are going to get health insurance as a consequence of this," Obama continued. "You've got a patient's bill of rights that makes sure insurance companies can't drop you when you get sick if you've been paying premiums, that makes sure there aren't lifetime limits, that makes sure kids who don't have health insurance can stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26. And cuts the deficit by over a trillion dollars. This is, what I think most people would say, is as significant a piece of legislation as we have seen in this country's history."
"Obama's $1 trillion figure is an extrapolation of what one-half of 1 percent of GDP might be," the newspaper's PolitiFact web site stated Wednesday. "According to the [Congressional Budget Office]'s latest numbers, GDP will be $22.5 trillion in 2020. You can do a rough estimate and find that you could get to roughly $1 trillion over 20 years."
Some of the biggest laughs came when Obama was questioned about his appointing the former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, as director of the White House's National Economic Council, despite the fact that Obama had previously hammered home the idea of change.
"I remember very clearly you said, 'We can't expect different results with the same people,'" Stewart said, "and I remember when you hired Larry Summers." The politically savvy studio audience laughed.
Stewart continued, "I remember thinking, 'Well that seems like the exact same person,' and 'why would you…' So in some respects I get your frustration with this idea that ‘Well jeez, are you never satisfied?’ But again, 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 … like bringing a guy like Larry Summers?"
"First of all," Obama replied, "if you look at how we have handled this financial crisis -- if you had told me two years ago that we're going to be able to stabilize the system -- stabilize the stock market, stabilize the economy -- and by the way -- at the end of this thing it, will cost less than 1% of GDP ... I'd say we'll take that because we saved taxpayers a whole lot of money. And in fairness, Larry Summers did a heck of a job trying to figure out how to ..." The echoes of President George W. Bush praising FEMA head Michael Brown in after Hurricane Katrina rang through the minds of many and elicited laughter in the studio and a smirk on Stewart's face.
"You don't want to use that phrase dude," the host advised.
The president smiled and said, "Pun intended. Larry was integral in helping to think through some really complicated stuff."
The other unfortunate laugh was when Stewart challenged Obama's use of the phrase "Yes We Can," asking if he would alter that slogan now that he has experienced the political gridlock that is modern politics.
"You wouldn't say you'd run this time as a pragmatist? It wouldn't be, 'Yes we can, given certain conditions?'" Stewart asked.
Obama, cornered it appeared, answered, "I think what I would say is yes we can, but..." and the pregnant pause proved Stewart's point and set the audience to laughing again. Obama finished his thought with "... but it's not going to happen overnight."
In Thursday's White House press briefing, the majority of questions Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had to field were about the 20-minutes-plus "The Daily Show" interview.
"I think Jon Stewart is about as good an interviewer as there is in the public domain," Gibbs said. "We didn't walk into that interview thinking we were going to be asked a list of softball questions."
When asked about Stewart calling the 44th president "dude", Gibbs said it could have been much worse.
"If the president took offense at somebody calling him dude, given the names that are hurled around this town, I hazard to guess he'd rarely leave the top floor of the residence every day," the press secretary said.
-- Tony Pierce
Photos: President Obama with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" Credits: Comedy Central; EPA / Roger Wollenberg