Last night, Jon Stewart delivered what may have been his harshest criticism yet of the Obama administration in an opening segment on the president's address about ISIS. Joking about Barack Obama's citation of antiterrorist policies in Yemen and Somalia, Stewart said, "I don't know if you want to cite a successful terrorist strategy that we've been pursuing... for years." And as for the geographical and cultural makeup of the coalition taking on ISIS? Stewart said it had a "little bit of a Crusade-y vibe."
This is hardly the first time Stewart has criticized Obama or liberals -- remember the 2010 rally he and Stephen Colbert threw around the notion that liberals and conservatives were equally culpable for America's problems? -- but this new tack seems a bit more aggressive and adversarial than in the past.
The old joke about Obama used to be that he was too cool for this -- that he was a basically competent person with common sense frustrated with the intransigence and nightmarish politi-speak of Washington. The villains of "The Daily Show," such as they were, were Republican members of Congress. In the ISIS segment, Obama is the one who comes close to villain status: reversing himself on the issue of military force, building a coalition that's tone-deaf to the facts on the ground, calling Americans' attention to the endless war on terror in a speech that falsely promised decisive action. Stewart treated Obama, last night, sort of as if he were... Bush.
Viewers may hardly have noticed how sharp Stewart's critique was. It's unlikely to catalyze further shift in public opinion away from Obama, not least because the segment critiqued the president's actions and words but stopped short of mocking him, per se. Obama wasn't a very funny subject of jokes when he was super-popular, nor is he terribly funny as a symbol of thwarted potential -- there's still nothing to grab onto.
That may end up being worse for Obama. Criticisms of George W. Bush by comics including Jon Stewart tended to be rooted in aspects of the Bush personality that his fans found charming -- his intellectual incuriosity, which could be read as "decisiveness." Everything he did wrong was part of a gestalt personality we could understand, whereas everything wrong during the Obama presidency has to do with scary facts on the ground beyond anyone's control. No matter what we may think of him, goes the "Daily Show" segment, here are the ways in which he's fallen short. It's unlikely that "The Daily Show" will ever go after Obama the way they did Bush, but the manner in which they did last night, made the point that the world of 2014 is too dangerous a place for Obama. It ended up speaking volumes.