News & Politics

Obama Loosens Up on Leno

The president handled his guest appearance on Leno with his usual charm. But we want to know more about why Geithner inspires his confidence.

Oh, it's wonderful when conservatives and their media begin to tsk-tsk over what's "appropriate" behavior for President Obama. "He flies off to Los Angeles tonight to appear on the Jay Leno show," Senator John Kyl sniffed, as if Obama were running off to drown his troubles at the local bar. "He even has time to fill out his NCAA basketball bracket," Senator Lamar Alexander complained, making me wonder, Would they disapprove if they found out that on occasion Obama takes a 20-minute bath instead of a five-minute shower?

But no one does pretend puritanical as well as the New York Post, whose post-Tonight Show front page is headlined: "No Joke! O yuks it up on Leno as economy burns."

To assert that the president of United States shouldn't talk directly to the people in times of crisis is positively dippy. Not only do the tsk-tskers want him to look derelict in his duty, they want him surrounded and at bay, like Manuel Noriega: Ideally they'd keep Obama caged in the Beltway bubble, where they can torture him by blasting at high decibels the sound of their own voices, and no others, 'round the clock.

But foiled again! Obama handled the Tonight Show (video below) with his usual aplomb, both the small talk (and, really, the notion that Obama's a brute for his Special Olympics remark is laughable) and the serious stuff about AIG and the economy. Every time he broke into a smile, you could feel tiny knots of national tension being loosened. And he did it in the crooning quiet of Leno's Burbank studio, bouncing his thoughts off the Chin as if he were a stand-in (stand-up?) for the typical Main Street guy.

The scene got a little tense, and some of the applause died down, when Leno asked how fair is it to use the tax code to target special groups, as arguably the House did yesterday to the AIG bonus babies. I thought Obama should have clarified two things: One, does he still approve of this tax strategy, as he said yesterday, or is he concerned about its constitutionality, as he said when a narrower version of it was first proposed?

And two, he might have clarified Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's role in watering down Senator Christopher Dodd's provision to cap executive bonuses in the budget bill. Granted, Leno wasn't the place to go into detail, but I've listened, I've read, and I still don't get the who, what, where, when, why. Obama seemed anxious instead to defend Geithner as a hardworking public servant in whom he has "complete confidence."

Now outta L.A. and back in the Bubbledome, will Obama tell us exactly why Geithner inspires such confidence?

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