Before I get to my comments on President Obama's Letterman appearance,I was on Tom Clark's Powerplay on the CTV News Channel Monday evening to discuss the Canadian Government's advertising and whether or not it's appropriate.
"Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, it's the David Letterman Show Starring...Barack Obama!"
In a first for David Letterman, President Obama dropped in tonight, following a whirlwind round of the Sunday Morning talk shows, and he looked as relaxed as George Clooney schmoozing Dave about Brad Pitt and his pals.
He immediately keyed in on the audience member with a heart-shaped potato and played it for all it was worth. He already had the audience from the get-go with a standing ovation. Even Clooney doesn't get that.
Dave's series of photos of the President at the White House with family, Bo and Hillary (!) kept the warmth going. [And having sat in the Ed Sullivan Theater during a Letterman taping, that is quite an accomplishment, I assure you! Although even the President asked the audience if they were cold!]
Dave's questions about the pace of the President's life moves into the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh later this week, and an easy slide into talk of families struggling during the economy; clean energy, the Lehman Brothers' crash last year; and bridging to making 'ordinary folks' and helping them.
The President claims that his stimulus spending was a "tourniquet to stop the bleeding" and saved 1.5 to 2 million jobs, and from there he moves into the theme of 'long-term sustainability'. He manages the expectations of no overnight solution, having lost $5 trillion in wealth, and then ends that sequence with 'we're going to come back stronger than ever'. [I sense a targeted email campaign coming on! So get your Blackberries ready folks!]
The 'Racist' Issue
After a commercial break, Dave leads him into Jimmy Carter's comments about the racism issue, triggered by the "you lie" shout-out by Rep. Joe Wilson R (SC). Obama hits it out of the park with "I think it's important to realize I was actually black before the election." Letterman tops him with "oh really, how long have you been black?"
The President connects back to the 'commie' labels and other epithets that previous Presidents like Kennedy and Reagan had to endure. He links back to "common sense and integrity" and how the public expects more from their elected officials.
Dave doesn't let go and the Prez allows that "you can have differences with me...health care...but suggesting that some of the anger is mis-placed" He shifts from there into feeling the taxpayers' pain over the lack of regulation allowing billions of dollars to line the balance sheet of banks (although he doesn't mention that the former Treasury Secretary put a gun to their heads to take the money. "The last thing I signed up for was bailing out banks and big auto companies."
High road, empathy path all the way...
On health care, Dave leads him into it by asking "what is it about health care that I don't understand?"
The President says that health care premiums have gone up about 125% in the past ten years, and the 'big insurance companies' have been dropping people from coverage....In five or ten years, employers won't be able to cover you...and people are going to go bankrupt. If you do have it he wants to make sure the insurance companies can't drop you, moving to electronic forms, and ends up with hitting back at the status quo thinking.
Dave breaks up the heavy going by observing that the President's job is "tougher than mine" but he doesn't get all this labeling of the British and Canadian systems as 'socialism' when it sounds pretty good to me!"
Dave does a shout out to Britain and Canada.. The Prez says that the Canadians like their system (big applause from Canadians from Canadians in the audience. I can't tell if Paul Schaeffer applauded.]
Mr. Obama refers to fear over 'the devil they don't know.' He admits that's why he's on the Letterman show - to reach regular folks about the issue.
Dave pokes fun at the 'death panels... "if only we could get those going right away." The President smiles but wisely chooses not to say anything as he would be instantly YouTubed no matter what he would say.
During the commercial break, the paparazzi are allowed to move up to the set for their photos - not an everyday thing on the Letterman Show for sure - all the while Paul Schaeffer and the CBS Orchestra are playing some great Chicago blues in honor of the special guest.
After the second last commercial break....
Dave moves into the moving out of Iraq and moving into Afghanistan. The Prez reaffirms the pull-out of combat troops by 2011 [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE] although admits Iraq won't be 'perfect". He distinguishes Iraq from Afghanistan and links the US interests from the 3000 Americans who lsot their lives in 9/11 [APPLAUSE].
He recognizes frustration with the progress in the war...and emphasizes military, diplomatic and humanitarian help. Hits an emotional chord when he says before he writes a letter to a military family that their child wasn't going home, he wants to clearly have the strategy to justify those steps, and he will be asking some very tough questions." [It works on an emotional level with the audience much better than on a literal one.]
Obama says that 'given the stakes in Afghanistan we should have finished the job there." "Iraq is better off without Saddam." He notes the enormous risks of 'doubling down' on Afghanistan. If there were easy answers, they wouldn't have fallen onto his desk. He ends with the assertion that the number one issue in A'ghan is that there are a number of extremists determined to kill innocent people and he keeps that firmly in mind.
Pretty masterful footwork through a tricky juxtaposition of two theaters of war. [With Democrats in Congress becoming more vocal in their opposition. Although Dave did not bring up the leaked document from the U.S. military commander on the ground whose criticisms of the effort made all the news earlier today. [One of the advantages of going on a talk show.]
After the last commercial break...
Dave sucks up somewhat with mentioning that as he goes on to address the UN tomorrow, 'how fascinating it is to watch you work". But then saves it with congratulating him for being in possession of a heart-shaped potato."
Nice tie-in to the opener and the President reaches out with a handshake, a big grin and it's all over for his debut on Letterman.
Barack, if the political thing doesn't work out, Dave's renewed contract ends in 2012...just in time for.....a new gig!
Until next time...