“Stephen, you’ve been taking a lot of shots at my job, I decided I’m going to go ahead and take a shot at yours,” the president told Mr. Colbert, strolling onto the stage at George Washington University here in Washington for a taping of “The Colbert Report.”
Mr. Obama, in mock-imperial style, refashioned Colbert’s regular bit called “The Word” into “The Decree.” The topic: Obamacare, or “To Health in a Handbasket.”
“Nation, as you know, I, Stephen Colbert, have never cared for our president,” Obama said, impersonating Colbert. “The guy is so arrogant, I’ll bet he talks about himself in the third person.”
“There are things both parties like about Obamacare,” the president said. On screen, it said: “Everything but the ‘Obama.’ ”
The student-filled auditorium cheered loudly when Obama-as-Colbert noted that young adults up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ plan. On screen: “aka Double Puberty.”
“Nearly 7 million people signed up last year and almost 1 million more have signed up in just the past few weeks,” Obama continued.
“So, half as popular as a Grumpy Cat Video,” read the on-screen commentary.
Perhaps most impressive was Obama’s ability to get through the bit without cracking up, as he is wont to do when delivering jokes. The bulk of his 18-minute appearance, which aired Monday night, was a straight interview – or as straight as it can get on Colbert, whose conservative on-screen character is a sendup of a certain Fox News TV commentator. At one point, Obama addressed Colbert as “Bill” – as in, Bill O’Reilly.
Time was when Obama was never going to appear on “The Colbert Report.”
“I have yet to see a politician best Stephen Colbert in an interview on his show,” then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Time magazine in February 2010, laughing.
But Obama and the White House relented for one of Colbert’s final episodes before he jumps to CBS for his new late-night gig, taking over for David Letterman.
Obama joked about Colbert’s move: "How do you stop something that more and more people are starting to like?" Next to Obama flashed, "Move it to CBS."
During the regular interview portion, Colbert tried to draw Obama out on the Keystone XL pipeline, to no avail. The Obama administration has spent years weighing whether to allow completion of the controversial project. Though Obama seemed dismissive of potential benefits to the US.
“Essentially, this is Canadian oil passing through the United States to be sold on the world market,” Obama said. “It's not going to push down gas prices here in the United States. It's good for Canada."
On the new employment numbers, Colbert joked that Obama should have posted big job increases before the disastrous-for-Democrats midterms instead of after – and then wondered if the numbers were increasing because the president had hired so many Defense secretaries.
Obama played along: "That's boosted our numbers a little bit.”
When asked, Obama said that he loves his job, but his family keeps him humble.
“Barack Obama – great president, or the greatest president?” Colbert asked.
"I think I'm going to let somebody else decide,” Obama replied. “Not you, but somebody who knows what they're talking about.... “
“It's hard to get perspective when you're in the middle of it,” the president added. “And hopefully, later down the road, people will take a look and they'll say, you know what, this guy woke up every day, he was working hard on behalf of the American people, and he got some stuff done."