Jon Stewart lets President Obama sidestep his toughest questions on The Daily Show
What a difference a couple of years can make.
Back in 2010, when Barack Obama first visited Jon Stewart's Daily Show as a sitting president, the comic met him as the voice of disappointed Democrats everywhere.
Sitting down just before the Democrats would take a beating in the 2010 midterm elections -- even the president called it a "shellacking" -- Stewart playfully but earnestly grilled Obama on why he appointed so many Wall Street regulars to handle the financial crisis, why health care reform felt like little more than papering over a dysfunctional system and why a campaign rooted in bold change seemed to produce so little.
Imagine my surprise Thursday, then, when Stewart allowed President Obama to sidestep many of his toughest questions, including queries about why his first debate performance was so lackluster and why it took so long for his administration to figure out what happened when terrorists attacked a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"How many times a week does Biden show up in a wet bathing suit to a meeting?" Stewart cracked before asking the president if he still believed "we don't have to trade our values and ideals for security." Obama went on to talk about his desire to close the terrorist holding facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with vague allusions to making tough decisions.
But that question seemed a natural bridge to questions about drone strikes which have killed civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which wasn't asked, along with a question about the propriety of killing Americans identified as terrorists without trial. Stewart's question about why there was so much confusion about what happened in Benghazi elicited a list from Obama of things connected to that incident that he wasn't confused about.
It was a surprising exchange, because Stewart has shown a knack for displaying a depth of knowledge in such conversations, but he didn't produce many details to challenge the president when he insisted " every piece of information we get, as we got it, we laid it out for the American people."
This close to such a tight election, it's perhaps not surprising that a comic known for his pragmatically liberal views would be careful challenging a Democratic president fighting hard for re-election. But I was hoping to see a little more of that 2010-era Jon Stewart Thursday.
Because that guy really knew how to ask questions everyone wants to see answered.