The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.
Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:
“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”
“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.
Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.
And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.
In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.
But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.