President Obama on The Daily Show: The Stakes in This Election Are Really Big


With the presidential election being more or less a tie, both candidates need a boost wherever they can get one. What better place for Obama to try and appeal to millennials than The Daily Show? In what was his sixth appearance on the show, the president made his case for why he should be re-elected in what was a fairly breezy interview.  

Not every appearence has been quite as smooth for Obama while on the show. In 2010, during the rise of the Tea Party that overthrew the Democratic supermajority, Jon Stewart rightfully asked what many Americans were thinking at the time, and maybe still are:  “Are WE the people we were waiting for?”

Two memorable quotes from Stewart during that 2010 exchange included:

“Now, how did we go in two years from “Hope and Change,” we are the people we’ve been looking for ... to ‘you’re not going to give them the keys, are you?!’” 

And even more scathingly:

“I don’t mean to lump you in with other presidents, but I think if I were to try and coalesce ... I think what …whatever criticism of it may be, it’s that ... you ran on the idea that this system needed basic reform. It feels like some of the reforms that have been passed, like health care, have been done in a very political manner that has papered over a foundation that is corrupt.”

This time, Obama definitely came off with a strong beginning, first gaining massive applause during his entrance, while exuding that confidence that caused so many in 2008 to think that “yes he could.”  Stewart then razzed him on his poor debate performance during the first presidential debate. Obama was also asked whether or not he was the anti-Romney vote, or if he should be elected based on his merit. Since I thought Romney had cornered the market on the "anti" vote, this seemed like an interesting twist in the political narrative to me.

This idea of voting for a candidate not because they’re the right choice, but because his or her opponent is the wrong choice, is not new. In 2004, many people voted for John Kerry because they hated Bush, not because they loved John Kerry. Of course, the politician from Massachusetts came across as a wealthy New Englander with a robotic personality when he ran for Oval Office, so there are certainly major differences between then and now.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Most of the first half of the interview centered on Obama selling his talking points to the American people. For fans of Obama, this was simply preaching to the choir. For those who see him as a failed president, a mental checklist of disputes about his policies’ effectiveness on the items he mentioned were already ticking away.

Remember the overly-used buzzwords for the 2008 elections, "Wall Street” and “Main Street?” Now it’s the middle class. But just how does one “create” the middle class? Do we take a rubber stamp that says “middle class,” slap it on someone’s forehead, and POOF!, we’ve created a strong economy?  Or does humanity’s condition improve through companies reinvesting profits back into their capital assets, thereby increasing a worker’s marginal productivity of labor; while also having the goods he or she buys become cheaper through that increased productivity?

The second half of the interview was far more interesting, as Jon Stewart brings up the attack on Benghazi. Obama’s answer is that intelligence is a constant process of filling in the gaps. He claims that Americans were informed as he was informed. Stewart provides some pushback here, as this is an important question. It felt like Obama dodged this one by providing his own narrative, rather than answering Stewart's question directly. Coincidentally, just what did Obama say about the Libya attack?

In what could be the next big meme in tody's political theatre, Obama went on to state towards the end that “when four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.” This is very similar to Romney’s now-infamous presumed gaffe from Tuesday's debate, which in context reads: "I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks?' and they brought us whole binders full of women." In an election year where supporters on both sides are looking to gain a perceptive advantage against the other, this will certainly be used by Republicans, although it probably won’t receive the same exposure. 

But this leads us into the real question, doesn’t it? If we are so focused on getting "our side" into the White House that we leave any and all principles by the wayside, was it worth it? If neither Jim Lehrer nor the American people can find much difference between either candidate, does that mean we're not making the right decisions on who should lead our nation? Are we so focused on making sure that the other side doesn’t win, that in the end, we all lose? To quote Stephen Colbert, I too hope that Obama and Romney are not “a big and cruel joke.”