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Obama on 'The Daily Show': What He Did and Didn't Do

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1
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President Obama's interview with Jon Stewart unfolded predictably. Stewart had a few props and one-liners, like handing Obama "Mug Force One" when he sat down for the interview. But mostly he asked Obama why the administration hadn't accomplished more and why liberals, in particular, shouldn't feel disappointed. Why has Obama's legislative agenda turned out to be so timid? Why hasn't he done more to transform the political process?

You ran on very high rhetoric, 'hope and chnage," and the Democrats this year seem to be running on "please, baby, one more chance." Now, how did we go, in two years, from "hope and change, we are the people we have been looking for, "you're not going to give them the keys, are you?" 

Obama responded by arguing that his agenda wasn't timid at all: Not only did he and his allies pass laws that saved the country from the next Great Depression. They enacted historic reforms of Wall Street, student lending, and the nation's health care system. More needs to be done; millions of Americans are still struggling. And there's unfinished business on energy and immigration. But, Obama said, his administration and his party have done a lot more than critics, particularly those on the left, acknowledge. 

I thought he was convincing, particularly when he talked about the ways health care reform was already helping millions of Americans. Then again, I've been making the same argument for a while, so others may not react the same way. 

Obama did surprise me in one respect. When Stewart asked him about the administration's failure to reform the political system itself, Obama zeroed in on the filibuster as an obstacle to progress:

Over the last two years, in an emergency situation, our basic attitude was, we have to get things done, in some cases quickly. ... In order to do that, we basically worked with the process rather than transform the process. And there's no doubt that it frustrated folks. It frustrates me. Look, I would love not to have a 60 vote requirement, which is not in the constitution but is in the Senate rules right now, that appl[ies] to everything we do, so that I can't get a deputy Secretary of Treasury in the middle of a financial crisis because somebody is holding it up and filibustering the appointment.

Obama's frustration with the filibuster isn't news. But Obama's emphasis on it is, I think. Over the last two years, administration officials complained constantly about how the need to find 60 votes in the Senate was stalling and, in some cases, thwarting their agenda. But ending, or even curbing, the filibuster never became a major priority, at least as far as I know. You didn't hear Obama calling out Congress to allow majority rule; you didn't hear about him pushing privately to change the rules.

If he had done those things, he might have been able to enact a bolder agenda--or, at least, enact the same agenda more quickly and painlessly. It's one area, I think, where the left's criticism of the administration has a lot of merit.