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Ghosts of Sound Bites Yet To Come: A Quick Take on Jon Stewart’s Interview with President Obama

October 29, 2010

Like Doug, I also found it interesting how Jon Stewart and President Obama spent a large portion of their “Daily Show” talk focused on Obama’s campaign slogans and promises. As Doug points out, through reference to Obama’s overly optimistic campaign slogans like “Change you can believe in” and “Yes we can,” both men work to revisit the past, comparing the bright future these slogans project to the not-quite-as-bright present. Stewart’s reconstructions of these slogans serve as a sardonic reminder of promises that he seems to feel Obama hasn’t quite delivered on, yet Obama attempts to reconstruct his campaign promises as future successes.

He points out that “change we can believe in” did not refer to changes that would happen overnight, or even “in 18 months.” Similarly, he points out that “yes we can” did not mean that we “could” immediately. Obama works to refocus this analysis of his campaign promises away from what Stewart characterizes as their seeming under-fulfillment and color them with another one of his candidacy’s buzzwords—“hope.”

In addition to reminding viewers of several successes—on healthcare, government transparency, economic policy, and so on—Obama also tries to portray his campaign promises as works in progress. He consistently says that change is something “we’re gonna have to work for,” and portrays his time in office as too brief to have enacted the kinds of promises he made on the campaign trail. He says that this long-haul approach is catching on, as evidenced by other Democrats who voted their conscience and “aren’t just thinking about the next election but are thinking about the next generation.”

He also says that our focus ought not to be on results, which are a long way off, but on the spirit of progress.  He argues that “if we’re making progress…we are being true to the spirit of the campaign.” This shift in focus allows Obama to downplay Stewart’s criticisms—a focus on the future doesn’t mean that he hasn’t delivered, it means that he’s in the process of delivering.


If you want to know more:

  • Ultimately, Obama is advancing an argument for his (and his party’s) continued legitimacy as a leader capable of leading the country to major progress and change. He does this by appealing to the ideals he publicly embraced in his campaign. Check out Andreea Ritivoi’s “Talking the Political Talk: Cold War Refugees and their Political Legitimation Through Style” or Adam Jaworsky and Dariusz Galasinsky’s “Vocative Address Forms and Ideological Legitimation in Political Debates” for more about how political leaders use values and ideals to achieve legitimacy.
  • You can watch Obama’s appearance on “The Daily Show” here.
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