WASHINGTON — If you are president of the United States and you take your campaign get-out-the-vote blitz to a fake news program, do you get tweaked, or do you get a pass?
2010 Midterm Elections
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You get tweaked, as President Obama discovered Wednesday, when he made his first appearance as president on “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central. As the host, Jon Stewart, needled him, the president declared that he never promised transformational change overnight.
“You ran on very high rhetoric, hope and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on, ‘Please baby, one more chance,’ ” Mr. Stewart said at one point. At another, he wondered aloud whether Mr. Obama had traded the audacity of 2008 for pragmatism in 2010, offering a platform of “Yes we can, given certain conditions.”
Mr. Obama paused for a moment. “I think I would say, ‘Yes we can, but”
Mr. Stewart, laughing, cut him off. The president pushed ahead, finishing his sentence: “But it’s not going to happen overnight.”
The gentle ribbing was perhaps a price the White House was willing to pay for the opportunity to reach Mr. Stewart’s valuable audience — young people who turned out in droves for the president, but who are deeply dissatisfied with him. Mr. Obama is spending the waning days of the election season trying to motivate that crowd to get to the polls, and he closed the interview by urging them to do just that, telling Mr. Stewart he wanted to make “a plug just to vote.”
Mr. Stewart, for his part, pressed the president with the standard liberal critique, accusing him of pursuing a legislative agenda that “felt timid at times” — a characterization Mr. Obama fiercely disputed.
The president wound up defending his health bill, members of Congress and even members of his administration. When Mr. Stewart asked why Mr. Obama, after promising to shake things up, had brought in old Democratic hands like Lawrence H. Summers, the Clinton Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama offered what, for Mr. Summers, was perhaps an unfortunate reply.
“In fairness,” he said, “Larry Summers did a heck of a job.”
Late-night television has come a long way since Bill Clinton, then a presidential candidate, played his saxophone for Arsenio Hall in 1992. The lines between entertainment and news are increasingly blurred — in part because Mr. Obama has been willing to take his presidential platform to settings his predecessors might have viewed as unconventional.
Mr. Obama has appeared as president on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Show with David Letterman”; over the summer, he dished with the doyennes of daytime television on ABC’s “The View.” (“I wanted to pick a show that Michelle actually watches,” he told them.)