About (Late) Last Night: Jon Stewart presses President Obama on ‘The Daily Show’


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The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1

Barack Obama became the first sitting president to appear on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart last night, but really ‘The Daily Show’ came to him. Stewart and company are broadcasting from Washington, D.C., all week ahead of Saturday’s Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall, an event Obama recognized near the end of the show.

‘The one other thing that might have made a difference is if you had held the Rally to Restore Sanity two years ago,’ Obama said. It was one final, playful punch from the president after a series of tender jabs from Stewart during the pair’s 30-minute friendly rumble.


Throughout the chat, Stewart played the role of disillusioned Democrat, disappointed by President Obama’s first 18 months in office and left deflated with real-life results after a campaign that worked to build lofty expectations. ‘You ran on very high rhetoric, hope and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on ‘Please baby, one more chance,’ ‘ Stewart said. ‘Are you disappointed in how it’s gone? Are you surprised that other people, even your base, can be disappointed in how it’s gone? Or do you reject that narrative?’

President Obama stayed on message ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections. ‘We’ve gone through the two toughest years of any time since the Great Depression,’ he said. But he also acknowledged disappointment. ‘People are frustrated, a lot of folks are hurting out there still, and in that environment, I think they’re hoping that we can do a little bit better here in Washington than we’ve been doing.’

But it was Stewart’s repurposing of Obama’s own rhetoric that shifted the president into offensive mode, championing his administration’s accomplishments. ‘Are we the people we were waiting for, or does it turn out those people are still out there?’ Stewart asked early on, as a half-joke. But the host pressed on. ‘Is the difficulty that you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you delivered?’ Stewart asked. ‘You ran with such, if I may, audacity,’ he said in his most pointed question, playing off of the title of Obama’s book, ‘The Audacity of Hope.’ Stewart continued, ‘Yet legislatively it has felt timid at times.’

‘Jon, I love your show, but this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you,’ said Obama. ‘If the point, Jon, is that overnight we did not transform the healthcare system, that point is true,’ said Obama later. Stewart cracked up, his resistance futile in a battle of words. ‘When you put it that way, it seems so petty,’ Stewart admitted.

Obama called the Affordable Care Act ‘as significant a piece of legislation as we have seen in this country’s history,’ and rattled off additional gains -- preventing a second Great Depression, private-sector job growth, financial regulatory reform -- but always reeled himself back. ‘Is it enough? No,’ Obama said. ‘I expect, and I think most Democrats out there expect, that most people want to see more progress.’

As a guest, Obama never quite seemed loose around Stewart, assumedly an ally. ‘I don’t mean to lump you in with other pundits,’ Obama said at one point. Stewart laughed but countered later, ‘I don’t mean to lump you in with other presidents.’

The president’s most casual moment came when discussing the financial crisis. ‘In fairness, Larry Summers did a heckuva job,’ Obama said to chuckles from the crowd. The phrasing echoed praise by George W. Bush of Michael Brown, the FEMA director during Hurricane Katrina. ‘You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,’ Stewart told the president. ‘Pun intended,’ Obama quipped.

Toward the end of the interview, after one of many long spiels by Obama, Stewart tried to butt in. ‘I appreciate you being polite,’ Obama said. ‘It’s just really hard not to talk,’ Stewart squeaked. ‘Folks, I think, hoped that we could completely transform Washington. I understand that impulse,’ Obama said. ‘The culture here is not always real helping,’ he continued, calling moves to change the process from the inside ‘a work in progress.’

‘On all these issues, my attitude is, if we’re making progress -- step by step, inch by inch, day by day -- then we’re being true to the spirit of that campaign,’ Obama said. ‘Yes we can,’ he said, with a caveat. ‘But it’s not going to happen overnight.’

-- Joe Coscarelli

See Parts 2 and 3 of the interview below.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 2
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 3
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity