Obama on The Daily Show

December 16, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Here’s a 32-minute interview that Barack Obama gave to Trevor Noah on yesterday’s “The Daily Show”.  I’m not a big fan of Noah as a comedian, but he asks Obama some pretty good questions. The main subject, of course, is Obama’s new book (volume 1) and its contents. As I’ve commented before, one reason several reviewers liked the book is because it portrays (as Obama notes here), what it’s like for a more-or-less average Joe to become President. This may be humblebrag, but the part of the book I read, excerpted in the New Woker, does give the sense of what it would feel for one of us—with the chops and experience, of course—to deal with the quotidian duties of the Chief Executive.

Noah asks Obama whether America should fear the loss of our position as the “world’s leader”, and what it was like to deal with terrorism (the apparent subject here is Osama bin Laden, but his name isn’t spoken).

The part that led me to this interview was an article which describes how Obama, responding to Noah, addresses claims that the ex-President misspoke when he said that the “Defund the police” slogan of the Left may have help squelch the hoped-for “blue wave” last month. Obama’s claim came in this video segment below, and one can make a good case that arguments to reduce or even eliminate the cops could indeed turn off centrist Democrats or centrists proper.

Noah calls 2020 a “year of racial reckoning,” and at 18:13 Obama says he’s been misunderstood when people say he was against the race-related protests because he criticized the slogan “defund the police”: that he was indeed a fan of the racial protests of the summer. As he says, his source of optimism about the future of race relations was “the activism that we saw in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter”.

Then, exactly 21 minutes into the interview, Obama is asked about that criticism of “defund the police.” I quote him:

“I was making a very particular point around that, if we want to translate the very legitimate belief that how we do policing needs to change and that if there is, for example, a homeless guy ranting and railing in the middle of the street, sending a mental health worker, rather than an armed untrained police officer to deal with that person might be a better outcome for all of us and make us safer, right?

[JAC note: you need to send a cop AND a mental health worker; that’s what’s done in this form of collaborative policing.]

“That, if we describe that to not just white folks, but let’s say Michelle’s mom, that makes sense to them. But if we say ‘defund the police,’ not just white folks, but Michelle’s mom might say, ‘If I’m getting robbed, who am I going to call and is somebody going to show up?’

” The issue here becomes ‘how are we translating and using language?’— not to make people more comfortable. . . The issue to me is not making them comfortable; it is ‘Can we be precise with our language enough that people who might be persuaded around that particular issue to make a particular change to get a particular result that we want—what’s the best way for us to describe that?'”

I think he’s right, and he has nothing to apologize for. It’s pragmatism, Jake. I can’t prove it, but I think the kind of extremism that prompted the Left’s “Defund the police” slogan (and in many cases defunding actually meant “abolishing”) did reduce the vote for non-Presidential Democratic candidates.

Finally, Obama talks about the “built-in advantages of the Republican party,” even though he says they’re definitely the “minority party.” He finishes off by asserting that he doesn’t miss the big stage and is simply satisfied with the job he did as President. There’s a moment in which he good-naturedly puts down Noah, and then finishes by describing what he’d consider his true legacy.

It’s a decent interview, and great to see a President with intelligence, humanity, and no need to bloviate and brag that he’s a “stable genius.” Let’s hope Biden can recapture at least a soupçon of Obama’s panache.

14 thoughts on “Obama on The Daily Show

  1. Yay! I knew what he meant when he said it, but some folks just insist on misunderstanding his simple statement – e.g., Sunny Hostin of The View was incensed, why? She’s a lawyer, she (should) know that words have meanings and if you want to say “take some of this money that’s being used exclusively to buy bigger guns and trucks and train guys to Shoot and use it for bullet-proof vests and to train guys to Think” then you should say that (some marketing genius can come up with a snappy saying). Why make life hard?

    1. I like your statement about using a marketing genius. Such geniuses are sadly lacking in the Democratic Party, which has been losing the public relations war with the Republicans for many years now. Adopting the motto, “defund the police,” was one of the worst decisions progressives made this past year. They then compounded this strategic error by trying to explain what they meant, which only made matters worst, because in politics, if you have to explain a motto or slogan, you’ve already lost.

  2. Wish we could mint more like him. Barry’s a thoughtful guy who can laugh at a joke made at his own expense — an essential component of a balanced mind, if you ask me.

  3. No comments yet? Maybe this was a science post.
    I’m not sure how the democrats came to own that bad slogan – defund the police but I’m pretty sure it was not a DNC platform. In usual republican fashion, it soon became the whole campaign. No one but extremist is going make that statement out-loud but then the crazies also try to make something out of Black lives matter that it is not. The example that Obama used – a guy standing in the street yelling and so on, should get a mental health person called out instead of a police officer, that is the easy one. However, most of what goes on is not easy. In Chicago they just had this happen. Police went to a specific address and busted the door down looking for some specific person. Why they thought this was the place, I don’t know but it was not. Cameras were rolling as they went in and grabbed the women, and the only person in the place. She started yelling at them and they were continuing to run around looking for something or someone. She had no clothes on and was damned upset, as anyone would be. She must have told them 40 times, you got the wrong place. They took her outside and I think handcuffed her. Now, the guy they were after was someplace else and he had a monitor on him that they could have checked to tell them his location but they didn’t do that. Anyway, this was right there in Chicago and it was on TV this morning. This is the kind of crap that needs to stop.

    1. I deeply miss Obama as well.

      I fear that our future holds a race to the bottom. Celebrities, showmen, and con-men (and women!) all the way down. Politics will become more and more about who can make people angriest, and each side of the political divide will become more interested in “owning” the other rather than having a functioning democracy.

      The only hope is that reasonable people — like President Obama — can reclaim the center, and that there are enough reasonable voters to follow them.

    2. Even as a Canadian the Obama years have a sort of golden glow when looking back at them.
      Whenever our family would see Obama on TV we’d all think “This guy is so cool, what an awesome president and what a great country to elect him!”

      Things…kinda changed after that….

  4. Any properly functioning person understands that defunding, eliminating, or otherwise significantly hampering police is not only a bad idea, but an idea spouted by activists that will hurt the people they claim they most want to help. It’s a quippy slogan that people like Ilhan Omar and her ilk can throw around, but it has serious consequences. This WSJ opinion piece, along with this study, show how the “Minneapolis Effect” — police backing away because of protests and fear of retaliation — has led to a huge spike in violent crime. And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen such a thing, as it’s happened many times over even in just the last few decades (e.g. the “Ferguson Effect,” or the Murray-Hill Riot).

    According to the article and the study on which it’s based linked above:

    “…reduced proactive policing resulted in about 710 more homicides and 2,800 more shootings in June and July alone. The victims of these crimes are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic, often living in disadvantaged and low-income neighborhoods.”

    If even 500 of those people who were killed in those two months were black, then that’s more than the police have shot and killed in the entire US in the last two years.

    I’m all for better training in deescalation, use of non-lethal force, and other methods for reducing police deaths, as well as reforming police unions so that police who wrongfully hurt or kill people are properly punished. What I am not and will never be for is anything close to what the “defund the police” crowd wants, and I believe that the vast majority of people have the same immediate reaction as I do when they hear such a slogan: they think it’s deeply stupid and dangerous. And I do believe that such slogans and other ideas and images that have come out of the riots — from constant general lawlessness in many cities to fiascoes like the CHAZ/CHOP in Portland — did significant damage to Democrats in Congressional and state elections.

    1. I second the above. I’ve been appalled at the lines at the gun store near where I live, San Francisco. SF has no gun shops, but there is one to the south. There’s always a line now. SF’s DA is anti-cop, crime has spiked, I guess people are scared.

  5. Trevor Noah’s interviews are always well done, with thoughtful questions and insightful remarks by Noah and usually, his guests.

  6. I was fond of Noah the brilliant stand up comedian and audience show host – albeit his views could be different from mine. But despite his description of feeling social distancing suiting him his isolation show is repetitive and strokes me the wrong way. He acts like Dianne Morgan when she is impersonating Philomena Cunk.

    Obama is almost always great!

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