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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Pedestrian President

So President Obama was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night, touting the accomplishments of his administration and, more importantly for Democrats, working to reconnect with those eager-beaver first-time and youthful voters. For Stewart and company, it’s ratings gold. For Obama, it was an opportunity to make the case to younger, left-leaning progressives that have been disgruntled or simply dropped out of the process since 2008. Watching Obama tangle with Stewart about his “timidity” on the health care debate was classic.

It was clearly physically challenging to stay still and quiet for the wise-cracking Stewart as the Commander in Chief spoke. Stewart often looked like the ADD/ADHD kid in the back of the classroom who keeps shooting his hand up to answer the teacher’s question.
Courtesy: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Without a doubt, it was an entertaining half hour – and a one-upsmanship on his “rival” and Comedy Central cohort Stephen Colbert, who hosted Vice President Joe Biden this fall.

Beyond the guffaws, what will be mulled is whether it’s “dignified” for the leader of the free world to get into a give-and-take with a comedian – albeit an influential and witty satirist.

There was a time when people gleaned the news of the day in more sober fashion, reading newspapers and newsmagazines, watching discussions on roundtable talk shows and then dissected politics with facts and vigor. Those days, sadly, are mostly behind us. Today, the leading source of news for many young Americans under 30 is The Daily Show. After all, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, fewer than 1 in 3 Americans gets news from a daily paper these days.You can shake your head in disgust and pine for "the good ol' days" or you can hunt for the masses where they live and make your pitch. 

The savvy politico goes where the people are. Even for all of her insanity, Sarah Palin has learned to insulate herself by manipulating media that offer maximum friendly exposure with minimum risk. Witness her daughter's shrewd placement on Dancing with the Stars, which guarantees facetime and, or, name mention on ABC news affiliates.Or the onetime governor, onetime GOP veep candidate's forthcoming reality show on TLC. No shame in her fluff pursuing game. 

Of course, you’ll have folks who continue the rant that Obama is demeaning the office of the presidency by appearing on unseemly shows, outlets that don’t dignify his position. Smarter money would point to the fact that it’s a totally strategic outreach plan to target specific demographics of the coalition that put him into office. His pop-in on the couch at The View last summer was to flash a big reminder sign in front of those daytime watching women who drift in and out of political conversations. Ditto his appearance with Stewart, who is not afraid to skewer the man he obviously touted for president.

Bill Clinton blasted these doors open with his appearance on the now-defunct Arsenio Hall Show, winning over a youthful population who looked at this guy as not only sufficiently wonky enough for the job, but cool to boot. And his 1993 MTV confessional on “boxers or briefs” took things to new heights – or lows, depending on your vantage. After that, it didn’t seem so unusual for major party candidates to work the late-night circuit, from Leno to Letterman.

Much like John F. Kennedy knew how to work the cameras in his debate with Richard Nixon back in 1960, this president has displayed comfort in doing the full-frontal assault on unconventional forms of media if it means connecting with voters and gaining an advantage. Old-school pundits may pshaw at the tactic.

Then again, that was the same thinking that prevailed when some guy named Howard Dean talked about raising money for political campaigns on the internet. And we see how sound conventional wisdom turned out to be on that one. 


  1. i was trying to post from my phone, didn't work. I thought it was an excellent show but on GMA this morning political commentator Nicole Wallace said he was begging Jon Stewart's forgiveness and pandering, and all I could think was "oh the media is reaching now".

  2. Wendell P. SimpsonOctober 29, 2010 at 4:43 AM

    Your column is spot on. Appearing on The Daily Show is a wise move for a president looking to shore up his ratings and reconnect with a constitency that has been alienated from the process by virtue of the failure of politics to resolve their socio-economic issues