Going Hollywood

GOING HOLLYWOOD…. Apparently, no sitting president has ever appeared on one of the late-night talk shows, so President Obama’s visit to “The Tonight Show” generated a little more attention than most presidential interviews.

If you missed it, here’s the unedited appearance. (If you can’t watch clips online, there’s a full transcript available.)

Two quick thoughts. First, I’ve seen some suggest it’s un-presidential for Obama to join Jay Leno for a chat. I find this largely unpersuasive. For one thing, the president spoke primarily about economic policy issues, which presumably is what the public wants to hear more of. For another, there is some precedent for these kinds of appearances: “After all, President Eisenhower was on The Colgate Comedy Hour and President Reagan did birthday specials for Bob Hope and George Burns, and yet democracy survived. And when it comes down to it, is appearing on America’s top-rated, longest-running late-night show really any less dignified than throwing out a pitch at a baseball game or calling the winner of the Super Bowl?”

Second, if blog posts are any indication, the “important” take-away from the interview wasn’t Obama’s comments on the economy, AIG, the banks, or Tim Geithner, but rather, a joke gone awry.

Leno asked, in jest, about whether the president had destroyed the White House bowling alley. Obama noted that he’d practiced a bit and recently bowled a 129. Leno mocked him with good natured but sarcastic applause, and addressed him as if he were a child: “Yes. That’s very good, Mr. President.” Obama, laughing, replied that Leno made it seem as if “it was like Special Olympics or something.”

Obama spokesperson Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One after the taping, “The president made an offhand remark, making fun of his own bowling, that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks the Special Olympics are a wonderful program.”

It was something Obama shouldn’t have said, but if becomes the main media focus for the rest of the day — which seems likely — it will be a shame. Presidents let their guards down once in a while. If the political world obsesses over off-hand jokes that fall flat, it only encourages consultants who try to remove every moment of authenticity from politics.