28 Oct 2010

Obama tells Stewart: ‘Yes we can, but…’

It was the moment when President Obama was confronted with liberal disappointment in his presidency – and appeared to respond with a new slogan: “Yes we can, but…”, writes Felicity Spector.

Mr Obama was making his first appearance as President on Jon Stewart’s satirical The Daily Show – in a studio especially transported to Washington DC, complete with a highly enthusiastic audience.

For Mr Stewart, a chance to show his slightly more serious side – as he quizzed the President on his record.

“When we promised during the campaign ‘change you can believe in’…it was ‘change you can believe in – but we’re going to have to work for it.Barack Obama

“You ran on very high rhetoric, hope and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on, ‘Please baby, one more chance’,” he quipped – as Obama rushed to defend his policies on health care and financial regulation.

“When we promised during the campaign ‘change you can believe in’, it wasn’t ‘change you can believe in in 18 months’,” the President said. “It was ‘change you can believe in – but we’re going to have to work for it.”

Watch Barack Obama's appearance in full on The Daily Show on More 4 tonight at 8.30pm

Too timid?

Mr Stewart wasn’t leaving it there – he described Obama’s agenda as too timid – and said even the Democrats themselves seemed unwilling to run on their list of accomplishments.

Even the Daily Show couldn’t have made up Rhode Island’s gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio – who told a local radio station he’d never asked for President Obama’s backing – declaring:”He can take his endorsement and really shove it, as far as I am concerned.”

“Are you planning a surprise party for us, filled with jobs and health care?” Jon Stewart

Obama has since shrugged off the remark, saying it was “no big deal”. And last night he seemed to suggest he wasn’t disappointed by his administration’s progress so far – saying that given the economic climate, people were bound to be frustrated.

“We’ve done some things that folks don’t know about,” he added – as Stewart looked startled. “Are you planning a surprise party for us, filled with jobs and health care”, asked the host.

‘Rally to Restore Sanity’

Next on Jon Stewart’s agenda – more politics: along with his fellow Comedy Central host, Stephen Colbert, he’s holding a mass “Rally to Restore Sanity” this weekend in the heart of Washington’s National Mall – and after a week which has seen, among other things, a liberal activist stomped on outside the Senatorial debate in Kentucky, and New York’s Republican candidate walk off stage for a bathroom break during a live televised debate – a modicum of sanity certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

Who Knows Jon Stewart? His brother is head of the New York Stock Exchange, so is his "Rally to Restore Sanity" set to be more than a Tea Party?

For President Obama: more last minute campaigning in the few days left before the mid-terms: he’s been constantly on the road for weeks. And although he’s appeared on the likes of Letterman and Leno – and the daytime chat show, The View – last night was an attempt to reach out to the valuable youth audience – who were once fired up with enthusiasm for his message of hope and change, and are now tuning out in droves.

Latest poll

In fact the latest poll for the New York Times has some far more worrying news for the Democrats: it’s not just young people who are disillusioned, but other key elements of the coalition which swept Obama to power are actively switching to the Republicans.

According to the survey – the GOP has managed to wipe out the Democratic advantage among women, Catholics, the less affluent and independent voters. Not only that, but the Republicans are now far and away the party most trusted to handle the budget deficit, while President Obama’s own approval ratings still languish at around 43 per cent.

Last night, in a conference call with volunteers from “Organising for America” – tasked with trying to get out the vote for Democrats in these last few crucial days – Obama told them: “We’ve got to run through the tape. We can’t just run half a race: we’ve got to keep on going.”

The White House has just six days left to persuade its erstwhile supporters there’s still some hope left, and still some change to come.

Felicity Spector is a chief sub-editor with Channel 4 News.