Obama didn’t denigrate the presidency by appearing on Stewart’s show

Lee West Contributor
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Some of my conservative friends are in a tizzy over Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Others think that President Obama denigrated the presidency by appearing on a comedy show.  Even worse, Jon Stewart called the president the ‘D’ word.  That’s right, it was the “dude” heard round the world…

Maybe it’s because I am a borderline nihilist, but I don’t see the big deal with any of this.  There’s no outrage on the right when people call the president Hitler, Mao, fascist, etc., but a comedian says “dude” in a joke to the president and holy hell we have a controversy.  I don’t get it.  Sure he said it while sitting across from the president instead of from behind the safety of a megaphone or a computer, but Stewart is in the business of telling jokes and Obama totally set himself up for that one.  One of the things I like best about Stewart is that he deftly maneuvers the fine line between the need to entertain his audience and the need to ask the questions that the media consistently fails to ask.  He made a funny joke with “dude” and also succeeded in making a point about Larry Summers.  Well done, sir.  Serious, but not serious.  His rally, and in fact much of his on-air time, is a mockery of what the media has become.  But because he has a podium and a slight sense of responsibility, he is more serious than most politicians.  And like it or not, as a result of all this: he’s the most influential man in America.  Note: this is a highly scientific poll (read: not at all, but still…).

The most compelling impression I had after watching the interview on Wednesday’s “Daily Show” is that this is probably the toughest interview Obama will face during his presidency.  Stewart is unabashedly liberal, but this wasn’t an entirely friendly interview and it was in front of a live audience — treacherous ground for Obama sans teleprompter.  Stewart called the president out on not changing business as usual in Washington.  I also really liked his retort to Obama’s claim that they’ve done a lot we didn’t know about.  He asked, “What have you done that people don’t know about?  Are you planning a surprise party for us?  With millions of jobs and health care?”  It was biting.  But in a way that elicits laughs.  Stewart looked good.  And Obama looked bad.  Stewart asked questions from the aggrieved left and Obama couldn’t answer them very well.

But Obama didn’t denigrate the presidency by appearing on “The Daily Show.”  These days a Democrat can’t run for president without ending up on Stewart’s show.  Stewart’s audience is smart and decidedly liberal.  Nail your message with this targeted audience and you can expect a bump in approval ratings.

No doubt this was a last-ditch effort to bolster the Democratic Party’s showing in the election on Tuesday.  Instead, all Obama did was belittle his policy positions and the legislative successes of his party in Congress.  If reforming health care was such a big accomplishment, he could have done a better job selling me on the fact that he believed that it was a big accomplishment.  With that audience he didn’t need to sell health care reform or his administration’s efforts to stem the economic mess they inherited.  He needed to sell the Democratic platform.  He needed to sell himself.  I wasn’t buying.

I’m also of the opinion that the Democrats’ comeback begins in January.  Not because they will be proposing anything that America needs, but because the Republicans lack moderate voices and people willing to work across the aisle.  It’s easy to say “no” as the minority party.  So my advice to the Republicans on the eve of their likely electoral takeover includes the following:

The Sharron Angles, Rand Pauls, and Michele Bachmanns of the world need to be restrained by leadership as much as possible and allowed only to vote.  If those folks — and those like them — are getting TV time, it won’t be pretty.  If Republicans wants continued success in 2012, they should start combating the loonies and religious zealots in the party.  And for crying out loud, stop the RINO hunts.  It’s okay to have moderate Republicans in your ranks.  In fact, it swells the ranks.  Case in point: Who would you prefer, Chris Coons or Mike Castle?  If in 2012 I have to choose between voting for a Tea Partier or voting for Obama, I’ll vote for Obama.

Also, if “it’s the deficit, stupid” in 2012, then I expect specific fiscal positions beyond just tax cuts.  Tax cuts “do not pay for themselves” in terms of paying for government expenditures.  If taxes are cut by several hundred billion, spending should also be cut by the same amount or more.  You can’t reduce tax revenue by $500 billion and keep spending at the same level.  If the Republicans do that — and history is on the side of this outcome — then all they will have accomplished on the deficit front will be to have increased it by $500 billion.

Oh, and please make Paul Ryan the chairman of the House Budget Committee.  He’s a Republican I really like.  If the Republicans are really serious about governing, then they should start listening to this man and let him lead.  But then again…that would mean the Republicans actually want to govern responsibly.

Lee West was born and raised in the Nashville suburbs but now calls the District of Columbia home. He enjoys playing adult kickball, waxing philosophic, watching sports and deconstructing the logic of well-paid op-ed columnists. He especially likes happy hours and dive bars.