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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interview of the Week: Obama on Letterman

Oh, those darn celebrities on TV...

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.


  1. I don't know about you, but my wife is the one who advises me on what I need to do, and when, and how.

    Obama does not give her any credit...instead he says that Biden will be there to help him make his decisions.

  2. It's a given that spouses support each other, or should. Thankfully the Obama couple are smart, forthright, good listeners, focused, family orientated, look for deeper meaning, operate above board, and are darn right reasonable people. One should also say we should respect people locally with these same values just as much and appreciate the direct impact they have on the community. A few of those stories would be interesting.

  3. Anon 12:40: well put! (Got any suggestions for those future local stories?)

  4. "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."

    That's verbose, but it's a great response. Far be it from me to disparage verbosity. A diluted gem is still a gem.

  5. If the answer seemed a bit verbose, Stan, I got the impression from the broadcast that Obama was perhaps deliberately over-explaining the issue, as if the issue shouldn't need explanation but needed to be explained very completely for the small minds trying to turn the comment into an issue. Rather clever!

  6. Obama is smooth during the Letterman interview, only because every aspect of that interview, from David Letterman's comments to Obama' answers are all pre-scripted and teleprompted with no chance for error or flub up. It has been that way for decades on Letterman's show and even most the time on Leno. That way they can stay on time with commercial breaks and there's no risk of somebody saying something the shouldn't like Joe Biden just did when he proclaimed that Hillary would have been a better choice than he. Of course, Biden spoke the truth from his heart with no script or teleprompter.

  7. I'm gonna give a positive story some thought and consider something for the other site.

  8. Know one can deny it, Obama is smooth. So smooth he is going to talk everone into electing him and he will raise taxes, take away our guns, and considers the US as no longer a Christian nation. :-(

  9. "Smooth" is something all politicians are trained to do: Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin, Rounds, etc. didn't get where they are by stammering through their lines.

    raising taxes: so you don't want to pay for the war on terrorism?

    take away your guns: maybe, if you're stockpiling assault weapons. But not if you're a real sportsman with a good hunting rifle or shotgun. (And you know, Anon, just how useful have your guns been in helping people get jobs, keep oil prices down, stop home foreclosures, or any other major economic issue?)

    "no longer a Christian nation" -- oh come on: you think Obama, a declared and practicing Christian, is going to damage to your faith? I'm having trouble seeing the logic there. Next you'll be telling me that this blog, written by an atheist, is weakening your belief in God (in which case, you'd have to have a pretty weak commitment to your religion in the first place).

  10. There is a Youtube video that was posted by a college student using his cell phone that shows Obama talking openly thinking he wasn't being recorded. He talks about how guns are unnecessary and no one needs them. That is a concern. My family is not just a family of sportsmen but are gun collectors as well. Obama states that no one uses semi-auto weapons to hunt. Ummm... wrong! Here in South Dakota we do. I have seen all sorts of semi-autos during deer season, semi-auto .243 and AR15's. I also read that his running mate was the sponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban.

    Ok, in all fairness, I did find another video where Obama states that he has been mis-stated and if you are a law abiding citizen, you should have the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. what do you believe? The words coming out of Obama's mouth? Or the word's coming out of Obama's mouth?

    As far as his religion is concerned, there is a lot of speculation about his dad and former pastor. I know that he has separated ties with his former pastor, but if this is the man that he has looked up to for years, what do you think his beliefs are? If he can switch just like that, then how strong do you think Obama is in HIS religion? It goes both ways...

    As far as taxes, taxes are going to go up. Bush has run this country so far into debt, that any candidate that says they are going to balance the budget is a fool. Obama has run Bush down for this, but yet he supports another Multi-billion dollar stimulus package to go out to people again. I know for a fact that you were making fun of this check and thought it was unnecessary. How do you feel about this?

    I like reading your blog. It is informative and creates good discussion on topics. You like to point out the negatives about McCain and Palin, I just want to get your thoughts on what's going on with Obama and Biden.

  11. Anon 10:06: I'm grateful for your comments and for the fact that you are enjoying the discussion. On the points you raise:

    Obama saying guns are unnecessary: I haven't seen that video, so I can't speak with authority on the context. But if I said no one really needs an XBox, that would not be the same as saying I favor taking everyone's XBox away.

    Semi-automatics for deer hunting? I don't know my weapons that well, but come on: do you need that much of an advantage over an unarmed herbivore?

    I believe Obama's statement from the Democratic National Convention, where he said, "The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals." He recognizes the difference between allowing folks to hunt in South Dakota and leaving the door open for big-city criminals to have easy access to high-powered firearms.

    Religion: Sure, Obama's biological father was a Muslim... who played almost zero role in raising his son. Sure, Reverend Wright said some things others have taken as objectionable (although I'm still waiting for someone to point out where Wright said anything that was bad theology).

    But I think Obama's faith path shows his dedication to Christianity is as strong as anyone else's, maybe stronger. He chose his church and his faith. He attended Columbia and Harvard, bastions of the secular humanism that some of my right-wing blogging counterparts fear is destroying America and Christianity, and yet has remained a committed Christian and regular church-goer. From all I can tell, his faith and his application of that faith to his work in the world are very intentional, not something he does just because his mom or dad told him or because it's politically opportune, but because he has thought it through and decided that his faith is the right way to live.

    More stimulus packages? You're right: I did criticize the first stimulus package, and I'm leery about another one. Such handouts only add to our debt, and our kids will have to pay for it. But if a stimulus package is coming, we need to get something more lasting from it than a brief boost in sales at Wal-Mart. From what I've read, Obama's proposal for more stimulus focuses more on building roads and other infrastructure, something that would last longer and serve the common good a lot more than folks buying more cheap plastic junk from China.

  12. Pennypincher9/15/2008 11:05 AM

    I for one hunt with a semi-auto weapon, a .223 to be exact. Why semi-auto? For a beginner hunter, it has less re-coil than a .243, and some guns, the bolt actions are difficult to deal with. It is a convenience thing, not a Rambo thing.

    I know a lot of people that use semi-autos when hunting prairie dogs and other varmits. It isn't that uncommon.


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