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Munchausen by Policy

“We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, 
but we cannot take from him the need for mythology.”
– Carl Gustav Jung

Last week, President Obama appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

It was his first post-election appearance on the program that played a big part in securing him a place in office, and it was the first appearance of any sitting president on the program. The questions were a bit light-weight, and in a week preceding an election, unforgivably so.

 In an interview that was more James Lipton than Jim Lehrer, the soft-shoe tap-dance around the economic issues that got us in the mess we’re in might just have cost the Democrats a slew of mid-term elections.

Video links after the jump.

I didn’t get to watch the interview live, as I had gone to see a screening of Inside Job, an excellent film that I advise all of you to see. It sheds light on several specific instances of gross illegalities and here-to-fore unreported incidents of institutionally unethical business practices, while establishing a pattern of ongoing disaster in the deregulated Wall Street of today. I was really wound up when I got back home, which was a little before midnight, and as luck would have it, the Comedy Central rebroadcast was just about to start.

When it ended, I was disappointed; numbed, really. I couldn’t sleep, so I opted to stay up and write a post on the Daily Show forum. Below is that forum post in its entirety:

Posted: 10-29-2010 4:54 AM
First of all, I was a huge proponent for electing Obama President, I even campaigned for him. Secondly, I’m a long-time fan of not only the Daily Show, but of Jon Stewart. Bearing those two factors in mind, I’m going to be a bit critical of them both.
The interview was more like a close-quarters press conference than an actual interview. None of the questions Jon poised were very controversial and it seemed like they were probably provided in advance so that the president could prepare answers. This isn’t a conspiracy, this is standard operating procedure, but I’d like to see what questions were considered off limits. As it happened, the interview was like any other that Stewart has conducted with any number of far-less-significant people; it wasn’t presented as real journalism, and indeed it wasn’t. It was light fluff with slightly more substance than one might expect from Leno or Letterman. If the average guest was there to pitch a book or movie, the president was there to pitch the job he’s been doing, and he was allowed to do just that for an extended period of time with little (or less) criticism than anyone else might get given the mediocre domestic approval ratings and the lack of fulfilled campaign promises.

Some other posters in this thread brought up a wish list of topics, and others dressed them down for expecting too much. I, for one, would have been satisfied with a basic exploration of one topic: the economy. The President ran on a platform to clean up Wall Street and hold the culprits of the worst financial crisis in global history accountable. Not only did he not do that post-election, he hired three of the architects of non-regulation, re-endorsed the head of the Federal Reserve, and has not to this day taken one single step toward prosecuting the corporate elite who fought regulation, escalated the ceiling of risk and torpedoed our country while grossing billions for themselves and their buddies at the top of the Ponzi pyramid. The closest the conversation (can it be called that, “a conversation”? It was more of a soliloquy) got to any of that was the question of backing the bailout, and would he have done it knowing now what he didn’t know then. I credit the president for not adamantly defending the bailout, but he was allowed to somewhat dodge a solid answer to that question by retorting with a hypothetical.

There was never any discussion of the fact that the bailout paid for executive bonuses after the fact, and that there has been no attempt to recover any of that money. There hasn’t even been a special investigator assigned to look into the prosecution of the executives who simultaneously banked on losses with insurance derivatives while pushing sub-prime loans via predatory lenders.

I think it’s awfully smug (and defeatist) to pose the question “Who else would have done more?” The point is that we elected Obama to do more. We elected Obama to go after the people in the last administration who lied and covered up and profited while the middle class vanished, unemployment hit all-time highs, and American youngsters were sent over seas to fight corporate America’s battles. That hasn’t happened, nor will it, in all likelihood.

I expected Obama to stop the war in the middle east. He didn’t; he moved it. I expected Obama to prosecute the Wall Street Greed Mongers. He didn’t; he hired them. These issues did not deserve the glad-handing that they got with Jon’s interview. He looked like a star-struck child, quite frankly, and I am severely disappointed. I understand, however, the showbiz politics inherent in landing an interview like this one, and he was probably granted this opportunity because White House officials knew it was going to be a love fest. I also understand that ideologically, this close to the midterm elections, dissing the president on national TV would be disastrous for democrats seeking reelection, and it’s no secret that Stewart is a liberal. A proper grilling would have insured an embargo of his program from anyone loyal to the white house. From a DNC perspective the interview fulfilled the purpose of keeping the president likeable, of restoring faith to the undecided who were already leaning left, and perhaps most importantly: boosting ratings to sell advertising space for one of the shows that continues to be a great platform for the democrats to reach that all important young voter. And boosted ratings were all the Stewart crew were after anyways. Show is a business, and that’s just what we got: a show, and the business.

It would have been nice if Stewart used his friend-to-lefty status to pull a David Frost and really hammer the president on the tough issues, but the timing was not right for that type of thing, and I can only hope that when next they book the President as a guest, such possibilities become reality.
(End of Post)

Post-election, I feel strongly that the failure to address those issues satisfactorily probably cost the Democrats a massacre of lame ducks.

Obama is generally pretty good about about owning up to the shortcomings of his office, and luckily for us there haven’t been a preponderance of them. But where his PR team failed him big time, was in not using the Daily Show as a platform to show the public that he’s not afraid of hard questions and (more importantly) that he has a plan for getting us out of this mess, and those responsible for it will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

By making this opportunity a strictly monitored publicity stunt (at best) and a less formal press release (at worst), the President appeared less dedicated than perhaps he is to tackling the problems beset him from the previous administration and the collapse of the bubble economy that followed. The democrats whose seats were on the line most definitely paid for this mistake with their jobs.

I’m not cutting them the slack of postponed self-accountability, mind you, they had the chance with an overwhelming majority in January 2009 to fast track the important issues like establishing universal healthcare, restoring habbeas corpus and reinforcing Glass-Steagall Legislation. Instead, many of the house democrats were more concerned with seeking reelection than with doing the public good and they stonewalled the entire white house agenda. Karma repaid them with the big boot.

It wasn’t the Republicans who did them in, the Democrats did this to themselves.

While it is doubtless clear on which side of the aisle I prefer to stand, I criticize only from a marketing perspective. The Presidents handlers delivered him a backfiring coup reminiscent of New Coke, The Windows 98 Blue Screen of death and the Edsel. Of course in retrospect it would have been far worse if when Stewart asked about the economy Obama replied (in the failing spirit of the 2005 McDonalds commercial),”I’d hit it.”

Though, in truth the sentiment would have been the same, because the economy is f***ed.

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