It’s late night in America, so President Obama must be appearing on another television talk show. Actually it could be any time of day. As Jay Leno joked in his monologue about Obama’s appearance on Wednesday’s installment of The Tonight Show: “It’s a real treat. He only does these shows once or twice a week.”
A few weeks after he visited David Letterman in New York, to say nothing of The View, The Daily Show, MTV, and the odd sports talk radio program, Obama traded quips and talking points with Leno, a detour to Los Angeles in the midst of his 5,300-mile “campaign marathon extravaganza,” as he called it, of a handful of battleground states.
Looking politically combat-ready in a dark suit and royal-blue tie, the president pranced out of the wings to the accompaniment of Hail to the Chief and favored Leno with a grip-and-grin that was appreciably friendlier than the one he gave Mitt Romney at the last debate. Also, when fielding earnest questions from Jay about Afghanistan and the fiscal cliff, Obama offered patient, step-by-step explanations, minus the dripping sarcasm he visited upon Romney in Boca Raton when describing the features of aircraft carriers and submarines in the horseless, bayonet-less 21st Century Navy.
The president, although he sat cross—legged at respectful, perhaps wary, distance, was primed to give his best reenactment of “folksy” and “confiding.” He revealed the existence of a treadmill that been stowed in “the bowels of Air Force One” by “the previous president,” as he referred to George W. Bush; admitted that there had been “a little caffeine-drinking on Air Force One”; recounted a joy ride he took around the South Lawn at the wheel of a Chevy Volt; joked about his debates with Michelle (“I just concede every point”); and—maybe this is something Romney campaign can make use of—confessed that he isn’t competent to help Malia with her math homework.
“The math stuff was fine up until about seventh grade,” Obama said. “Malia is now a freshman in high school. I’m pretty lost.”
Uncharacteristically, he even sucked up. “You’re always funny, Jay!” Obama proclaimed when the two commiserated about their respective off-nights—Leno during one of his subpar standup routines and Obama during that low-energy debate in Denver.
Speaking of which, aside from a couple of funny moments, the show seemed strangely enervated, with Leno dutifully checking off a laundry list of issues on index cards, and the president relying upon his internal tape loop to provide the same answers he generally gives these days.
The bright spots included Obama’s response to a question about his testy relationship with a certain thatch-roofed, self-avowed billionaire who, by common agreement, shall no longer be named on The Daily Beast, at least for a decent interval.
“This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya,” the president quipped, getting a big laugh from the studio audience and applause from Leno, and cracking himself up in the bargain. “We had constant run-ins on the soccer field. He wasn’t very good and resented it. We finally moved to America. I thought it’d be over.”
Obama also reacted to the statement by Richard Mourdock, the anti-abortion rights Republican candidate for Senate in Indiana, that a pregnancy arising from a rape is “what God intended.”
“I don’t know where these guys come up with these ideas,” Obama said. “Rape is rape. It is a crime…This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s health care.”
The president also lavished praise on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. He claimed he’d been “begging” the latter to stay on as secretary of state in a second term, but that she was likely to leave in order to, as the saying goes, spend more time with her family.
Answering questions submitted by audience members and Facebook users, he said that if he could have use of a super power, “Flying seems pretty fun, although I always thought it might get cold.” And he urged the warring owners and players of the National Hockey League to resolve their differences for the sake of the fans. “I just want to remind the owners and players, you guys make money… You got a whole bunch of fans out there… You all should be able to figure this out.”
And, as he got ready to leave and resume his airborne whistlestop tour, he exhorted: “Get out there and vote”—which, after all, was the point of the whole exercise.