For his final appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in advance of the comedian’s departure from the news desk, President Barack Obama sat down for a candid, thoughtful interview about the need for people to engage with the political system. He also discussed the media’s tendency toward confirmation bias, as well as the fact that kids these days aren’t so jaded as we are largely led to believe.
It was Obama’s third appearance since taking office, but his seventh overall. Therefore, he’s just as upset over the impending loss of Stewart from The Daily Show as the rest of us: “I’m issuing a new executive order that Jon Stewart cannot leave the show,” Obama joked, adding that it was “being challenged in the courts.”
More seriously, with just a year and a half left in his presidency, Obama admitted that he’s better at the job now than he was when he started, “like any other job.” However, he does think that “a lot of the work that we did early starts bearing fruit later, and it just so happened over the last couple of months that people are seeing some of the work that we started way back when I first came in.”
To illustrate, Obama cited the recent Iran deal as well as universal health care and efforts to curtail the effects of climate change.
Obama on the media
When it comes to media coverage of the White House, Stewart questioned whether the media is too “focused on the wrong things,” and whether the media demands too much.
However, though Obama admitted that some media “get distracted by shiny objects,” he told Stewart that it’s the media’s job to “focus on the big tough choices.”
While social media has vastly changed how we consume traditional news even since Obama entered office in 2008, the president confessed that although they don’t always manage to get it right, the White House has experimented with finding different ways to deliver its message. Gone are the days when the president could deliver a two-minute sound bite that would then be handily packaged for the evening news.
Though political figures are often criticized for their seemingly PR-fed talking points as a way to distance themselves, Obama told Stewart that he does not “feel particularly guarded.” However, he also admitted that the “splintering of the media” and its consumers make it difficult to have one conversation. “You have folks that are constantly looking for facts that reinforce their existing point of view instead of having a common conversation,” he said, adding that we have to “think about how we join together in a common conversation around something other than the Super Bowl.”
Obama: Young people haven’t lost their idealism
In a discussion about young people and national service, Obama said that the best education he ever received was when he was working as an organizer in low-income neighborhoods and wanted to commit to “something bigger.”
Similarly, added Obama, “This notion that young people have lost their idealism or are too cynical or ironic — it’s not true. But we have to give them pathways to get them involved and we’ve tried to expand things like AmeriCorps as much as possible.” With his remaining 18 months in office, part of that strategy involves lower-cost college education as well as putting more scholarships in place.
Finally, the president implored everyone — not just young people — to get involved. He said that the only way things can change is if you express your opinion, whether you agree with him on political issues or not.
Obama said: “If people are engaged, eventually the political system responds. Despite the money, despite the lobbyists, it still responds.”