Laugh track sorely missed as Obama does Leno
President Obama played it straight, but friendly, last night on America's top-rated late night TV show. Jay Leno, whose rating have surged as he cracks more and more jokes about the president, played the straight man on the Tonight Show. For Obama, it was a chance to repair his soured imaged, as the campaign's claim that Al Qaeda is "on the run" now looks like a bad joke.
Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico summed up the cosmetic nature of the effort:
...even in an interview that was the most gracious and substantive he's conducted in months, none of what Obama said mattered nearly as much as the underlying message of his sober, charming, occasionally smiling display as he sat cross-legged at Leno's side for most of an hour: He's campaigning to get back to being Barack Obama again.
As Obama works to reframe himself ahead of the fall budget negotiations with Republicans, he's got to win back the people and the places where the squeaky-voiced king of late night plays the strongest - those that most readers of Obama's interview with the New York Times last week might tend to lump together as "middle America."
The appearance on a late night comedy show, coming in the midst of a purported terror crisis so severe that it requires an unprecedented closing of American embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world, crystallizes the cynical propaganda approach of the Obama gang. On the one hand, he is using the majesty of the office of POTUS to gain access to and perhaps soften the barbs of a man who has become his most-widely quoted critic. On the other, he intends to make himself more approachable, friendlier, and aw shucks, just another guy sort of figure in the minds of a vast swath of the public.
It is far from clear that the effort is successful. Leno, who is on his way out from NBC - the most enthusiastic media claque Obama still enjoys - opened the show with a joke at Obama's expense, noting that "he was excited for a face-to-face conversation, since that would save Obama 'the trouble of going through my emails and phone calls.'"
Then there is the question of dignity. On the one hand, the public is supposed to believe that there is a real crisis overseas, but on the other hand, Obama doesn't miss his tee time and is out in Hollywood. Neil Cavuto noted that JFK certainly didn't go on the Jack Paar Show when the Cuban Missile Crisis was underway.
Obama did buy himself some good will from Leno:
The reward: Leno being the one to ask about infrastructure, "Why is that a partisan issue?" and wonder aloud why Republicans won't work with Obama to set up a WPA-style corps to rebuild crumbling bridges and be sent in to rehabilitate Detroit, among other projects.
Obama eagerly took the lob - once the crowd had finished applauding for Leno.
"Used to be Republicans and Democrats, they loved cutting those ribbons, and we've got a bunch of construction workers who aren't working right now - they've got the skills, they want to get on the job and it would have a huge impact on the economy not just now, but into the future," Obama said. "I'm just going to keep on pushing Republicans to join with us and let's try to do it."
Remember, Obama said, when he was the common sense guy who just wanted to bust through the silliness in Washington and finally get things done?
"We don't need a huge government, but we need government doing some basic things, and we should all agree on a sensible mechanism that can go ahead and pay for it, make sure we're cutting down on permitting times, delays," Obama said. "But let's go ahead and get it done."
But there was no laughter when Obama dropped this howler:
"We don't have a domestic spying program," he said. "What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack. That information is useful."
Obama may have bought himself some time with middle America, but the serious scandals are not going away, depiste the best efforts of the medias to deep six them. Stay tuned.