Of all the possible ways to refer to our uptight president, “dude” is not the first one that springs to mind. Comedian Jon Stewart changed all that Wednesday night, and President Obama was not amused.
Mr. Obama showed up on “The Daily Show” to make an appeal to the program’s young, well-educated audience, which he considers part of his base. When the president defended his former economic adviser by saying, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job,” Mr. Stewart interjected, “You don’t want to use that phrase, dude.” In this, he both drew an inference between Mr. Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who famously expressed similar praise for Katrina-era FEMA Director Michael “Brownie” Brown, and also let a burst of air out of what has been a dangerously overinflated presidency. It was a rare moment when people were laughing at Mr. Obama rather than with him.
The days are long past when it was particularly daring or groundbreaking for a politician to go on a comedy show. In 1968, then-candidate Richard Nixon made a brief appearance on NBC’s “Laugh-In” saying “sock it to me,” which was humorous because no one expected Nixon to do it. His opponent, then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, later said that not accepting his own invitation to appear on the show helped cost him the election. Some politicians have used comedy shows to engage in some self-deprecating humor, such as George W. Bush and Al Gore on “Saturday Night Live” in 2000. Other attempts to reach out to the youth audience have become inadvertent classics, like Bill Clinton’s slightly creepy reaction to being asked about his underwear on MTV.
“The Daily Show,” however, blurs the line between news and comedy in a postmodern merger of satire, celebrity and wonkishness. Some view it as a legitimate news source, and a 2007 poll of most admired journalists had Mr. Stewart - who by the way is not a journalist - at No. 4.
Another laugh at Mr. Obama’s expense came when he was responding to a line of questioning from Mr. Stewart that encapsulated the liberal critique of his presidency; namely, that he hasn’t done enough to bring about the promised “fundamental transformation” of America. For the left, there is a widening audacity gap. Would Mr. Obama have to change his slogan, “Yes, we can?” the president began. “I think what I would say is ‘yes, we can, but … .’ ” At that point, Mr. Stewart and the crowd began laughing. The president dude looked a little foolish. Hope and change died with that “but.”
“The Daily Show” was in town this week as part of the publicity campaign culminating in this weekend’s combined “rallies” - more like a live variety show - featuring Mr. Stewart and fellow huckster Stephen Colbert. The latter returns to Washington after his farcical testimony last month before the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, an exercise in political theater that was heavily panned even by Democrats. The ridiculous testimony did serve a purpose, though, because it confirmed that the Democratic congressional majority doesn’t take important issues of public policy seriously, nor even its responsibilities for governing.
It’s hard to convince the American people that your party is not a joke when comedians become your most visible supporters. Mocking conservative activists who have been motivated to get involved in politics out of legitimate fears for the future of the country will only motivate them to greater efforts to stuff it right back in the smirking faces of the liberal wisecrackers. Our nation is in trouble, and America isn’t laughing, dude.