October 28, 2010

Obama – Stewart with the Sound Off

As Karl said, politics is TV with the sound off.  Obama may have come out ahead on talking points or debate technique (as if Jon Stewart happened to be one of those pundits the Prez lumped him in with), but the Daily Show is about busting the spin, and the take away, as you see above, is that Obama (“Heck of a job, Larry!) came off not like the change he promised so much as a typical politician.


What I said above is frankly generic so I went back and watched it again, with and without sound, and this time, I took my own screen shots instead of working off the wire photos.

My take is that Obama is a great communicator — if you give him 20 minutes with a friendly interviewer and an admiring audience. It shouldn’t be a passive interviewer, though. In fact, he’s at his best when someone gets in his face a little bit.

1. Sitting back listening to Stewart frame the Larry Summers question. (18:31)

What’s interesting here, and at other points where Stewart challenged Obama, is that Obama pulls back, but he doesn’t really get that defensive. Instead, he seems to leave space for the other person to more fully make their point before he engages. It’s almost like a defender in basketball leaving space for a fast opponent so he can figure out the move.

Defending the response to economic crisis (20:27).

If it looks forceful, Obama is actually being more determined than aggressive, insistent on making his point and setting the record straight — which is something he doesn’t seem to do day-to-day operating “in the bubble.”

In the picture just above this photo (from 21:57), Obama talks about understanding the public’s impatience and the difficulty of bringing about change in the culture of Washington.

The closest screenshot is from the “phasing in health care” discussion. Obama reacts to the charge he oversold himself by emphasizing “change you can believe in” doesn’t happen in only eighteen months. (Around the 16:00 mark, I believe.)

Obama has a pretty interesting and healthy response to confrontation. When Stewart challenged him, he actually got out of his head and started talking more frankly and with a lot more feeling and connection.

Stewart joke: It’s hard for me not to talk (20:54).

If you were just reading the picture, the take-away might be that Obama can keep his sense of humor. Stewart’s joke, however, comes from Obama not letting him get a word in edgewise (as Obama goes around one more time in explaining his handling of the economy and and defending the role of Larry Summers). The joke, then, is about Obama being long-winded; Obama working to communicate; Obama having to make sure he’s understood; Obama emphasizing “it’s complicated.”

What the interview drove home to me more than anything is how much Obama must hate sound bites. He resists delivering them and it clearly frustrates him that his actions, and especially the criticisms of him are reduced to these reductive, overly simplistic and offensive little “packets.”

As eloquent, tempered, thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate and clear as he can be, however, what the President doesn’t seem to understand, or more likely doesn’t want to, is that forums like this — where he can express himself the way he would like — are all too rare.

The Obama Daily Show Interview

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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