President Barack Obama sat down yesterday for an interview long on politics and policy, and short on laughs, as he sought to reach out to younger voters by appearing on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” less than a week before congressional elections.
In a discussion that stuck closely to his campaign themes of voter “frustration” with the slow economic recovery, Obama and Stewart talked health-care policy and Senate procedure as the president told the supportive crowd that change “is not going to happen overnight.”
Obama defended his record, calling the health-care law that he pushed through Congress “as significant a piece of legislation as we’ve seen in this country’s history.”
“Over and over again we have moved forward an agenda that is making a difference in people’s lives,” the president said during the taping at the Harman Center for the Arts in downtown Washington. The interview was broadcast last night on Viacom Inc.’s Comedy Central cable channel.
“We have done an awful lot we talked about during the campaign,” he said, while also saying that all the changes he promised are “not going to happen overnight.”
Obama is trying to energize young, Hispanic and black voters -- three constituencies crucial to his 2008 presidential campaign -- on behalf of Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate on the Nov. 2 ballot.
To that end, he has appeared at university rallies around the country in recent weeks. He has also made several media appearances in addition to “The Daily Show.” He spoke with syndicated radio host Michael Smerconish earlier yesterday and with the Reverend Al Sharpton on American Urban Radio Networks Oct. 26. An interview with Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Radio aired Oct. 25.
“The Daily Show” has averaged about 1.1 million viewers aged 18 to 49 this year, according to Nielsen Co., and is one of the most-watched late-night shows among viewers 18 to 34 years of age.
“You’ve got a constituency of younger voters that watch that show, and it’s a good place to go and reach them,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a briefing Oct. 26. “The president hasn’t been shy about going to the places where people are getting their information and trying to make his case.”
Stewart is also more popular among Democrats and independents than among Republicans, according to an Oct. 7-10 Bloomberg National Poll. The survey by Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co. found that 43 percent of Democrats and independents had a favorable view of Stewart, compared with 20 percent of Republicans.
Obama told Stewart that, along with the health-care law, his administration has made strides by enacting new financial regulations and, though the economy isn’t growing fast enough, averting an even worse financial crisis.
He discussed implementation of the health-care law, his irritation with Senate filibusters that block legislation, the way that drawing congressional district boundaries can prevent competitive races, and the power of special interests.
Obama told the audience that his campaign slogan wasn’t “change you can believe in, in 18 months,” but a set of policies that will take time to fully put in place.
“My attitude is, if we’re making progress, step by step, inch by inch, day by day, then we are being true to the spirit of this campaign,” he said. “We’ve put a framework in place.”
The president singled out three House Democrats by name for votes they have taken in support of his agenda at the cost of political support in their districts: Tom Perriello of Virginia, John Boccieri of Ohio and Betsy Markey of Colorado. All three are targeted by Republicans.
“They won in the big surge in 2008, they knew it was going to be a tough battle,” Obama said. “My hope is that those people are rewarded for taking those tough votes.”
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report projects that Democrats may lose as many as 60 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans need to gain 39 to take control of the chamber. Cook projects Republicans picking up as many as nine seats in the Senate, one short of the number needed for a majority.
One exchange during the show that was met with laughter came when Stewart called on Obama to explain how his appointment of Lawrence H. Summers to an administration post represented a new direction for Washington, since Summers had held senior positions in the administration of President Bill Clinton.
‘Heck of a Job’
“Larry Summers did a heck of a job,” Obama said, prompting Stewart to reply, “You don’t want to use that phrase, dude.”
Obama’s comment recalled President George W. Bush’s endorsement of his emergency management chief during the government’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” The official, Michael D. Brown, resigned within days of that statement.
This was Obama’s first visit to “The Daily Show” since his inauguration. During the 2008 presidential campaign Obama and his Republican rival, John McCain, appeared on the show.
Obama and McCain also made cameos on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” during the presidential campaign, continuing a long line of public officials and candidates who have appeared on comedy shows, including then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s appearance on NBC’s “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” in 1968.
Since becoming president, Obama has appeared on both Jay Leno’s and David Letterman’s late-night talk shows, as well as on the daytime ABC show “The View.”
Rally in Washington
Stewart is taping “The Daily Show” in Washington this week in advance of his Oct. 30 rally on the National Mall. He is promoting the rally as a “million moderate march” to counter what he calls extreme rhetoric dominating the national political discussion.
In their permit application with the National Park Service, organizers said they expected about 60,000 people to attend, according to Comedy Central senior vice president Steve Albani.
Obama said during a Sept. 29 appearance in Richmond, Virginia, that he was “amused” by plans for the rally and that most voters are looking for “common sense” and “courtesy.”
The president is planning a final flurry of campaigning Oct. 30 and 31 with stops in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois and Ohio -- four states that Obama won in 2008 and where Democratic candidates are in crucial races.
As he wrapped up his interview with Stewart, Obama called on the audience to “go out there and vote Nov. 2.”