On Thursday night President Obama made his second visit to “The Daily Show” since taking office. It was a busy night for the commander-in-chief: He was in New York City to attend the Al Smith Dinner, the traditional election-year fundraiser where the presidential candidates don their fanciest white-tie attire and politely roast each other.
Maybe Obama was saving his best one-liners for that event, because his appearance on “The Daily Show” was noticeably absent of the personal-interest chit-chat that often characterizes political talk-show appearances. There was no discussion of the first family’s taste in reality television, for instance, nor any humanizing little anecdotes about how Barack likes to serenade Michelle all the time.
Host Jon Stewart stuck to the issues, although he managed to be pretty funny at the same time. He started off with the question millions of his supporters have been wondering: What went wrong in the first debate? Had he just consumed "an open-faced turkey sandwich and a shot of Nyquil?"
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“Obviously I had an off night. The presentation wasn’t the way it needed to be,” the president acknowledged. “But the issues haven’t changed, they didn’t change after the first debate and they didn’t change in the second debate.”
Obama repeated this pattern of quickly moving back to campaign talking points throughout the interview. He seemed more interested in getting his message to voters than in answering Stewart’s questions.
That’s not to say the conversation wasn’t fruitful. One of Stewart’s more pointed questions was whether Obama’s case for a second term was stronger than the case against a Romney administration. The president argued that “it’s two sides to the same coin.” After rattling off a list of his accomplishments – ending the war in Iraq, passing healthcare reform, weakening Al Qaeda, reducing unemployment -- Obama went on to make the case that what a president doesn’t do is as important as what he does do, citing things Romney supports, like a federal marriage amendment that would ban same-sex unions.
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As it was in Tuesday’s debate, the most memorable portion of the interview was the discussion of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Stewart, who has been rather critical of Obama on this subject, asked why – issues of semantics aside -- there seemed to be so much confusion about the incident.
“We weren’t confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed. I wasn’t confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened, I wasn’t confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happens so it gets fixed, and I wasn’t confused about the fact that we’re going to hunt down whoever did it and bring him to justice,” Obama replied.
From there, he explained that the investigation was an ongoing process, invoking the metaphor of a picture gradually being filled in as intelligence is collected.
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Stewart pushed the president to concede that there was at least a disconnect between the State Department and the White House: “I would say even you would admit it was not the optimal response at least to the American people as far as us all being on the same page.”
Borrowing Stewart’s choice of words, Obama replied, “Here’s what I’ll say. If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal and we’re going to fix it. And what happens during the course of a presidency is that the government is a big operation. At any given time something screws up, you make sure you find out what’s broken and you fix it. Whatever else I have done throughout the course of my presidency, the one thing that I’ve been absolutely clear about is America’s security comes first.”