I'm not particularly fond of the notion that a talk show host - even a comedian - feels familiar enough with the President of the United States to call him "dude." But, that's just me. Old school to the degree that it's difficult not to call veteran colleagues in my field by their last name. Just a pinch orthodox where I'm not feeling the use of my shorthanded nickname unless you really do know me that well - otherwise, it's what you see on the card. So, there was something provocative and vexing about that, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart's rattling retort to what is being described as President Barack Obama's own "Brownie" moment:
OBAMA: "In fairness, Larry Summers [former White House Economic Advisor] did a heckuva job."
STEWART: "You don't wanna use that phrase, dude."
Followed by many moments in the half-hour exchange where the President, notorious for his aversion to the unpredictable, looked slightly embarrassed. He didn't find it funny, either. And, perhaps, we saw at that moment a twinkle of rage at the thought that it's gone too far: from "You Lie!" to irksome birther movement fanatics; from a book being hurled at him to the deliberate misuse of his middle name. It's the most impossible position - being damned if you do, damned if you don't. The left demands that he get angry ... that he play dirty against Republicans who don't know anything about fair play. The right wants him, as Stewart put it, "timid" and submissive. Which means he has a choice between being so angry that he's the Black President with an attitude problem or so soft that he's the Black President who can be stepped and punk'd on.
It appeared as though he struggled to find a happy middle somewhere, jousting with the relentless shtick of Jon Stewart. And, there was frustration there that despite all he's done, the message is constantly lost (like his now famous car-in-the-ditch analogy) in the mud of sound bites, untruthful attack ads and late night comedy. It's not certain if the urgency of the times came through in that interview, despite the President's best effort at stressing that.
I feel the predicament he's in, but am more inclined to feel the predicament we're collectively in.
This is where he finds himself, parading back and forth across the country hitting battleground states in a last ditch game show to save his Congressional majority. And when the host of one of the President's last major media appearances before that fateful Tuesday calls him something other than "sir" or "Mr. President," it brings to question the line between the respect traditionally shown to the office and the continuous inner-candidate of Barack Obama who wants the public to find him approachable. With the high expectations he created now left crawling drunk across an empty prom dance floor, it's not like he couldn't have seen this coming. And, it's not like his advisors, didn't know Stewart was capable of planting verbal potholes the size of low approval ratings throughout the conversation. But, they apparently didn't, caught up in their own chuckling and familiarity with the satirist who's looking for his own historic moments. Was it really worth it? The cost of that public, almost casual comfort level the President sought in 2008 remains unknown. We won't see that until his re-election bid in 2012.