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Obama on 'Daily Show': Did he best Jon Stewart?

Jon Stewart allowed Obama the time to frame responses the way the president wanted to. Stewart hosted Obama on 'Daily Show' Wednesday night.

By Staff writer / October 28, 2010

President Obama gestures during a commercial break as he talks with host Jon Stewart as he takes part in a taping of Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,' Oct. 27, in Washington.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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President Obama was on “The Daily Show” Wednesday night, in case you haven’t heard. And after watching the appearance several times, we have to ask this: Did Mr. Obama take Jon Stewart to the cleaners?

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Did the president wrap "The Daily Show” host around his finger? Did he take him downtown? Did he engage Mr. Stewart in verbal fisticuffs in a way that can be described, using any number of other journalistic clichés, as victorious?

And here’s the inflammatory question: Do Republicans deserve equal time? We'd love to see possible Speaker-to-be John Boehner on "The Daily Show." Or the biggest news-show get of all: Sarah Palin.

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Well, first, Stewart seems to be kind of a Democrat. That’s become pretty obvious over the years. So he treated Obama with respect. He asked respectful questions. He respectfully allowed Obama lots of running room in response to those questions.

(To be fair, Stewart might have been just as gentle with a GOP president. He’s a comedian first and foremost, and when comedians interview presidents, they seem to need to prove that they can be substantive, as we talked about Wednesday. Nonfunny journalists, in contrast, seem to need to prove they can be aggressive.)

This approach produced an in-depth half-hour or so discussion of public policy. Most reviews of the appearance have noted that it was far more serious than it was funny. They discussed the nature of change in the American political system and how difficult it is to accomplish that. They discussed whether Democratic candidates around the country are trying to distance themselves from Obama administration policies. They discussed the high unemployment rate.

But within this lengthy discussion, Stewart allowed Obama the time to frame responses the way he (Obama, that is) wanted to. The host did not challenge the president when, for instance, he discussed unemployment largely in terms of how many jobs had been lost before Obama administration economic policies took effect.

There’s an election only days away, remember, and Obama’s been campaigning hard. He’s got his talking points down, and his purpose in appearing on “The Daily Show” was to present those as well as he could to the young voters who rely on Stewart and his quasi-news team for much of their information.

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Yes, Stewart did challenge the president on the effects of health reform – but from the left, not the right. The comedian at one point implied that the health bill had been “timid.”

That’s a batting practice pitch right into Obama’s hitting zone.

“This notion that health care was ‘timid,’ you’ve got 30 million people who are going to get health insurance as a consequence of this,” began Obama. Then he revved up his stump defense of the health bill, drawing cheers from the studio audience.

At the end of the interview, when Obama made a reference to Stewart’s upcoming rally on the National Mall, it was ... an underhanded compliment. A backhanded dig. Something like that.

“You know, 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.

Snap!

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