David Letterman conducted a surprisingly sensible and remarkably long interview with Senator Barack Obama last night. (Surely just media bias: we all know David Letterman comes from that hotbed of elitist liberalism, Indiana.)
Senator Obama gave a very natural, relaxed performance, looking entirely at ease whether he was offering one-liners or serious comment on national and international affairs. He complimented President Bush on doing the right thing immediately after 9/11 in going after al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and on increasing funding for programs to tackle AIDS in Africa. He spoke of the need to live up to the expectations the world has of America to be a great nation. Interesting thought: other nations criticize us not because so many of them hate us, because so many of them look up to America and see us as setting the bar for how truly great nations behave.
When Letterman asked if Obama might have picked a different running mate had McCain picked Palin earlier, Obama made clear his VP choice was about governing, not image and politics:
You know, the way I thought about it was, 'Who's going to help me govern? Who's the person I want in the room if we've got a big decision to make? Who's going to be able to give me good counsel, good advice, who's able to maybe have some ideas that I don't have or give me a perspective that I haven't seen, and I think that nobody can do that better than Joe Biden. And I know what he cares about and what he stands for - I think he's going to be a great choice [Senator Barack Obama, on Late Show with David Letterman, 2008.09.10].
And on the non-issue of the week, Obama cleverly addressed the "lipstick on a pig" comment:
Look, this is - if you - this is sort of silly season in politics - not that there's a non-silly season in politics. But it gets sillier. But, you know, it's a common expression in at least Illinois, I don't know about New York City. I don't know where you put lipstick on here. But in Illinois, the expression connotes the idea that if you have a bad idea, in this case I was talking about John McCain's economic plans, that just calling them change, calling it something different, doesn't make it better, hence, lipstick on a pig is still a pig.
Now that's straight talk, plus a not-so-subtle jab back on the whole anti-small-town elitism malarkey the GOP likes to spew.
On a question about helping Haiti given its endemic economic problems compounded by hurricane devastation, Obama noted that this current administration has struggled to deal effectively with disasters like Katrina here at home. When Letterman said it's frustrating that such problems linger when America has so many resources, Obama made this noteworthy statement on the need to balance individual responsibility with our sense of community:
You know, part of it is that we've been sold a bill of goods, I think, that says just look out for yourself and everybody's on their own. Now, I am a big believer of individual responsibility and whether it's improving our education system or dealing with issues like welfare, I'm a big believer that you've got to take care of yourself and take care of your kids. But, I also believe that part of what makes this country great is that we rise and fall together, and that our attitude is, you know, if there's some child out there that doesn't have a decent school, that that affects Harry and that affects my kids, and it affects everybody.
Sure, as a small-town Democrat, I'm a wholly biased reviewer of Obama's performance. But for 30-some minutes, Senator Obama made himself at home in an avowedly less-than-intellectual forum ("This sort of discussion, because I don't have the brainpower for it, makes my head hurt," said Letterman) and gave clear, honest, engaging answers to questions ranging from the substantial to the silly.
An excellent Reaganesque communicator, a sincere patriot, and a smart, caring man—Obama truly sets the bar for leadership. I'll be proud to vote for him and call him President.