Un-Presidented

"How come you don't do 'Iron Jay' anymore? That bit was hilarious!"

"How come you don't do 'Iron Jay' anymore? That bit was hilarious!"

I don’t have a lot to say about President Obama’s Tonight Show appearance, but there’ll never be a better excuse for taking this blog out of mothballs.

Clearly, this is an attempt by Obama to get around what his predecessor infamously referred to as the “filter”–that is, the mainstream news media–in order to speak directly to “the people.” Given how awful the news media has become, I think this is perfectly defensible. Leno let Obama speak at some length, and his questions, while not especially insightful, were no more trivial than those typically heard in The Situation Room, or from the other side of the Meet the Press desk. Leno’s no great shakes as an interviewer, but he knew to keep the focus on  his interviewee, and to stay on topic. Until the last, light-hearted segment, it was a relatively substantive interview.

It was not, however, a challenging one (though Jay deserves credit for poking the Pres. when he appeared to be overselling Geithner’s responsibility for the AIG mess).  It would be interesting to see how Obama would do with Jon Stewart or David Letterman. But that, of course, would defeat the other, less legitimate reason for “reaching out” via late-night TV: it’s not much of a risk. Obama going on Leno is hardly the same as Bush appearing on FOX News, but the probability of tough questioning is about the same–albeit for different reasons. (I’m not suggesting Leno’s “in the tank” for Obama, as Rupert’s crew was for Bush–just that Leno can be counted on to defer to Big Stars, whether from showbiz or politics, in a way that neither Stewart nor Letterman can.)

On the “Special Olympics” gaffe: Jaime Wieman has a good take (I love how he calls ABC jackass Jake Tapper the network’s “senior trivia correspondent”). It was unclear to me whether the joke was merely a self-deprecating comment on that still-low 129 score, or a characterization of Leno’s condescending applause (watch again, and see what you think). If it was the latter, that’s a little more impressive demonstration of quick-wittedness, and wickedness, in the sense of betraying a darker sensibility.

In any event, it was pretty inexcusable. I support Obama, and think he has used humor well, for the most part, but you just don’t do jokes about the Special Olympics on The Tonight Show. Especially if you’re President of the United States.

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4 Responses to “Un-Presidented”

  1. Eleanor McConnell Says:

    I agree with your assessment of the interview. However, I was so hoping no one would make a stink about the Special Olympics comment (foolish to think THAT would happen). I know it was insensitive, and probably stems from the mean-spirited Ur-joke about S.O. that we all absorb without thinking about as kids and retain somewhere in our brains whether we want to or not. Still, part of me thought it was refreshingly funny because it was a piece of Obama having a real human reaction (however regrettable) to something, which I always crave from politicians, and which they can never do for fear of saying something wrong. I’m sure I’d be less sanguine about this if he had said something sexist, or some other thing that is closer to my heart. As it is, it came across as the one spontaneous moment of him just being a guy having a laugh at his own expense (and other’s expense too, sadly). Too bad we couldn’t get one without the other, but that’s pretty rare in everyday life as well. My sense of him, after reading and observing over the past year, is that he does indeed have a quick and deeply wicked sense of humor. I’m disappointed that we will never get a chance to really see it.

  2. Guy Stauss Says:

    Ya know I hardly would have noticed the “Special Olympics” thing unless it was pointed out to me, because I was still recovering from a President who is man enough to admit to a 129 bowling score. Try to imagine the previous occupant saying that.

    But the thing that really, really disturbed me was that the President showed more than a passing familiarity with American Idol. Like he might actually [i]watch[/i] it. That scares the crap out of me. Honestly.

  3. Kathleen Says:

    As someone who views politics as a fascinating game of strategy, I have to say that Obama has scored some serious points in a very short period of time. He did very well at breaking through via popular culture without crossing the line into something outrageous; say, lacing up some sequined wingtips and competing on Dancing with the Stars. Good call on that one, too. John McCain would’ve given him a run for his money there.

    I am also impressed at how he avoided the decision of choosing a mutt or a purebred for the White House dog. I have never seen the public demand accountability on any issue as they did on his comment about adopting a mutt from the pound. Score another point for Obama, he got around having to make that decision by accepting a gift from an ailing Kennedy. Checkmate.

    It’s good to catch up on the blog. I’d be interested to hear where you put the odds of Jon Stewart ever interviewing the president after the Jim Cramer episode. I can appreciate Jon Stewart’s conviction during an interview, but it seems misdirected when he holds Jim Cramer to answer for the entire financial crisis. I once saw him ask very hard-hitting and important questions about Dick Cheney… to Cheney’s biographer.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. URK Says:

    Nice to see this operation still operating! Or at least it was in March. come back Policomic, come back!

    Anywyay i don’t have much to add except to say that I think that this: “probably stems from the mean-spirited Ur-joke about S.O. that we all absorb without thinking about as kids and retain somewhere in our brains whether we want to or not.” by Elly is exactly right.

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