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“Dude…”

[ 34 ] October 28, 2010 |

He should have said “yes we can, and” instead of “but.” But in general, I don’t buy the criticisms of Obama’s appearance on the Daily Show last night. Some of them seem down-right contradictory: Dana Milbank claims Obama “didn’t try to connect with his youthful audience” in the same paragraph as he claims that he should have been humiliated by Stewart calling him “dude.”

I saw the opposite: a President whose very presence on the show demonstrated a connection to the audience, who was able to laugh both at himself and with Stewart, while speaking even-handedly about his record.

To my mind, his body language was masterful.* He towered over Stewart as he entered, sat forward like a tiger ready to pounce while Stewart worked up the courage to ask tough questions, and was genial, gentlemanly and Presidential especially when he was putting Stewart firmly in his place. In short, it was refreshing to see Obama display the backbone that Colbert and Stewart often (rightly) accuse him of lacking. This doesn’t make him “defensive”; it proves he’s still got much-needed punch. It was also a pretty slick maneuver to force Stewart into 2 minutes of overtime by refusing to let him control the ending of the show. Obama doesn’t need to worry about whether someone calls him “dude.”

But does this mean Stewart “lost” as the debate as Kevin Fallon suggests? Nope. 2.8 million viewers tuned in last night. In addition to garnering a truckload of media attention in advance of his upcoming rally, Stewart also modeled the very values that his rally is meant to promote and celebrate: civil, democratic deliberation.

Clive Crooks disagrees:

Stewart seems to see himself as an intelligent moderate, sick of anger and bitter partisanship and all that. Perhaps he is. But what does the Daily Show have to do with civility, for heaven’s sake? Since when was satire even supposed to be civil? And has anybody ever accused the Daily Show of being fair and balanced–except in the way Fox News is fair and balanced? How does Stewart square this supposed political neutrality with the constant cheering and yelping that come from his young, liberal, evidently GOP-loathing audience? (Obama was right about that, at least: this is his base.) And you noticed, I expect, how Stewart’s questioning of the president challenged him every time from the left. Why so timid? Why the backing down? You wouldn’t say you’d run this time as a pragmatist? That line of questioning does not come from the center. Of course Stewart understands this. So what is all this nonsense about the Million Moderate March? Oh, right, he’s joking.

Maybe, but if so Clive Crook doesn’t get this level of satire. The Rally to Restore Sanity is not about being in the political center and it’s certainly not about being neutral. It is about a moderate approach to political discourse, one in which we can deliberate and aim to persuade – whatever our perspective – with civility and even laughter, and at the end of the day maintain a sense of fellow-feeling. In this particular transaction, Obama represents the liberal center, so Stewart had to play from one side or the other in order to model the sort of intelligent deliberation he so yearns to see on both sides of the political spectrum and in the media.

Of course there is a serious and very interesting debate about the extent to which comedians are positioned to play this role. 60 Minutes has been taking comment this week on whether Stewart and Colbert “in danger of taking the joke a step too far?” But as this study from the Pew Center shows, it’s probably reductionist to think of the Daily Show as “just” comedy. Colbert and Stewart are blending and bending the political-entertainment-news-industrial-complex into something new, and they’ve been doing it for awhile.

And meanwhile rally preparations proceed apace. Colbert and Stewart have now joined forces; Arianna Huffington is bankrolling travel expenses for over 10,000 New Yorkers. Oprah Winfrey has given free tickets to an entire studio audience. Over 225,000 have pledged to attend the rally on FB. A “fear/sanity” franchise has blossomed online: you can now buy shirts that say “I’m With Reasonable.” Whether S/C can convert their social media blitz into a teeming mass of bodies on the mall remains to be seen. But some are arguing the rally and its attendant meetups could influence the election. More here.

It could all be hype. I for one will be observing firsthand at the Washington Mall on Saturday to find out for myself. And I’ll be going with Reasonable.

*But take my interpretation with a grain of salt:Robyn Adams has an interesting analysis of how the press frames body language.

UPDATE: Picking up on the politics-and-satire element on this post, just found this great Foreign Policy round-up on Stewart’s counterparts in other countries. For those of us who often feel the US is truly going to hell in a hand-basket, it’s a useful perspective on how downright dangerous this business can be in other places…

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Comments (34)

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  1. Tomk says:

    “one in which we can deliberate and aim to persuade – whatever our perspective – with civility and even laughter, and at the end of the day” and then cover up war crimes and massive looting and order an assassination or two. I’m sorry, what’s happening just isn’t funny. But I’m being unreasonable, I guess.

    • Oscar Leroy says:

      Whoa! Calm down! Take a deep breath! Passion is for loons! You’re starting to sound like those anti-war people in 2002, and thank goodness we didn’t listen to them!

    • MobiusKlein says:

      If I were President, GW and DC would have been flown by the Marines to Guantanamo on inauguration day. But that hardly would have been a pragmatic step, however gratifying.

      I’m somewhat of the opinion that no matter what, Obama was going to be shanked by the Congressional Republicans – so may as well try to look like the good guy.

      • old says:

        MobiusKlein,

        How would you have stopped the civil war that would have started by your second day in office?

        • Tomk says:

          Why stop it? Step aside. When the shooting stops the bad guys are gone and we can let Glenn Greenwald and Scott Horton and Chris Hedges and Yves Smith, etcetera, organize the new System. And golden balls of light from our minds will roll over the land dripping love.

        • Oscar Leroy says:

          Haha! Civil war! Like the overfed, pasty, semi-retired Teabaggers are going to take up arms in any meaningful way. But one thing’s for sure: Obama’s weak-kneed conflict-averse style sure has succeeded in bringing our country back together as one.

  2. “Stewart seems to see himself as an intelligent moderate, sick of anger and bitter partisanship and all that.”

    Wow. Clive Crook has really got the whole ‘projection’ thing down to a tee doesn’t he?

  3. MikeJ says:

    You’re doing this media crit thing wrong. You looked at then evidence and then came up with conclusions. Everybody knows that in the big leagues it’s the other way ’round.

  4. Jon Stewart says:


    Wow. Clive Crook has really got the whole ‘projection’ thing down to a tee doesn’t he?

    I am not a (Clive) Crook!

  5. Left_Wing_Fox says:

    It is about a moderate approach to political discourse, one in which we can deliberate and aim to persuade – whatever our perspective – with civility and even laughter, and at the end of the day maintain a sense of fellow-feeling.

    Or more fundamentally, how about a talk about Healthcare without delving into “Death Panels for Grandma!” How about immigration talks without “Dems will give free healthcare for mexican rapists!” How about discussing foreign policy without seeing Islamofascist conspiracy behind every crescent, or creeping Sharia in cans of soup?

    In other words, The conversation right now is between moderate democrats and batshit lunatics screaming about the fatwahs issued by their alphabet soup.

    But no, we half to treat paranoid conspiracy theories and blatant lies with the respect demanded of our political leadership. To say otherwise makes you a partisan radical out of touch with the American people.

  6. Joe says:

    I’m often upset at the President, but darn, if I still am impressed at his ability to go on and argue his side this well. Yes, he is a moderate against radicals but come on, who else would be elected? We can seethe at the limits of moderation of this sort, but we still live in the real world. Those who appear to take an approach that it wouldn’t matter if McCain won piss me off too.

  7. Yeah, the MSM got really hung on on that “Dude” thing … I mean cripes, can we NOT take ourselves so fucking seriously all the time, people?

  8. Pepe says:

    Yes, Obama does have a backbone, and demonstrates this when going after TV show hosts who generally speaking, agree with him, and Dems who dare stray from the corporatocracy.

  9. Simple Mind says:

    The Obama and Stewart conversations should air every Sunday morning and preferably not competing with the World Series.

  10. DocAmazing says:

    Maybe Obama should have just played the saxophone.

    • Linda says:

      No, the media would have screwed that up, too. When Clinton did the saxophone thing, there were pundits (I believe Maureen Dowd was one of them), who compared it to the Mike-Dukakis-riding-in-a-tank schtick.

      I recently read a story where the head of Ford lured a Toyota executive to his firm with, “Dude, we’ve got to do this.” Apparently, “dude” is now how middle-aged men show male bonding, like “coach” used to be.

  11. Aaron says:

    A shame Obama only seems to develop this spine when talking to leftists.

  12. cpinva says:

    pres. obama did a call-in interview with rightwing radio host michael smerconish, the same morning. in the ordinary, smerconish is your classic limbaugh/beck wanabee. to his credit, he acted, well, like a normal interviewer. he asked solid questions, and gave obama the uninterrupted opportunity to respond. obama responded well, whether you liked his response or not.

    overall, i thought it was a fair interview.

    • mark f says:

      I’m pretty sure Smerconish voted for Obama, or at least said he’d be ok with it if he won.

      • Dennis Brennan says:

        Smerconish very specifically announced that he had voted for Obama. He’s a very intermittent right-winger. The fact that his program airs on the same channel as Beck and Rush does not mean that he is in lockstep with them.

        Plus, the guy’s a fan of the band Yes, so he can’t be all bad.

  13. c u n d gulag says:

    My soon to be 85 year-old father, and 78 year-old mother really want to go the rally. I’d love to take them, but none of the 3 of us are too ambulatory – I’m handicapped and can’t walk any great distance, and the same goes for them, but for a more obvious reason – their age. I”ve been to the Mall countless times for protests, and I know how far a walk it is from the nearest parking, wo we’ll stay home and watch it.
    None of us qualify for the motorized scooters that every ancient Teabaggers had, like teenagers with designer sneakers. How come those rich pricks can get one and we can’t?

  14. SoozK-M says:

    Colbert and Stewart are blending and bending the political-entertainment-news-industrial-complex into something new, and they’ve been doing it for awhile.

    Stewart and Colbert are walking, talking political cartoons. My grandchildren will study them in social studies some day.

  15. Ed says:

    Colbert and Stewart are blending and bending the political-entertainment-news-industrial-complex into something new, and they’ve been doing it for awhile.

    They certainly seem to think so, although I note Stewart tends to retreat hastily into “I’m just a comedian” territory when needful.

    I wouldn’t waste my time and money on a rally conducted by show folk that suggests there’s some kind of equivalent crazy on both sides in this election.

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