CBS News photoSo much to say about comedian Jon Stewart and his popularity as the most trusted journalist in America…(he’s not a journalist and those polled were mostly young adults for whom Stewart is their only source of news)…and the elections.

So there’s that appearance Wednesday night on the Daily Show by President Obama. Just a few words about that

On Comedy Central, the joke was on President Obama Wednesday night.

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

The Daily Show host was giving Obama a tough time about hiring the conventional and Clintonian Larry Summers as his top economic advisor.

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama.

So after a couple of days of reading and listening to the coverage of this, I have to say none of it captures the performance I saw, at least as I saw it.

Prepared for fluff and fawning admiration, I was surprise that, right out of the gate, Stewart asked Obama something like ‘so, are we the ones we’ve been waiting for?’ in jest of Obama’s ’08 campaign rhetoric. ‘Or, are there others out there and we don’t have their number yet?’, Stewart followed up, as Obama fumbled for a response. Obama virtually filibustered Stewart.

After touting his administration’s policies that raised the Dow exchange and lifted the economy, Stewart asked Obama if he would have taken the same stance knowing it would lead to 10 percent unemployment… Which got deflected in a halting, posturing monologue.

In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

But, as in his MTV appearance a couple of weeks ago, Obama didn’t try to connect with his youthful audience. He was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question…

“Is the difficulty,” Stewart asked, “that you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you delivered? You ran with such, if I may, audacity…. yet legislatively it has felt timid at times.”

Stewart had found the sore point between Obama and his base — and Obama was irritable.

Yes, I noticed that. And it was the moment I realized this whole thing really hadn’t been scripted, after all.

“My attitude is if we’re making progress, step by step, inch by inch, day by day,” Obama said, “that we are being true to the spirit of that campaign.”

“You wouldn’t say you’d run this time as a pragmatist? It wouldn’t be, ‘Yes we can, given certain conditions?’”

“I think what I would say is yes we can, but — ”

Stewart, and the audience, laughed at the “but.”

Obama didn’t laugh. “But it’s not going to happen overnight,” he finished.

It was a ‘you had to be there’ moment. Obama’s ‘yes we can, but…’ was an irresistible foil for Stewart.

Which has bigger stakes than such an appearance and even an alliance deserves. But it is what it is, and Stewart is one of the pop culture’s icons of informed cynicism of the status quo, even if he’s becoming part of the status quo.

It’s interesting that in his rally that pretends to be wholly non-political though it totally is, Stewart is being called the last or only visible representative of ‘the moderates‘.

It’s bad enough that the only way to drum up enthusiasm for a “Rally to Restore Sanity” is to make it into a television comedian’s joke. But it’s far worse that the “moderates” in attendance will have been bused in by Arianna Huffington and organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

This is how words, and then ideas, vanish from our political lexicon: Whatever connotations it once had, the word “moderate” has now come to mean “liberal” or even “left-wing” in American politics. It has been a long time since “moderate” Republicans were regarded as important, centrist assets by their party: Nowadays, they are far more likely to be regarded as closet lefties and potential traitors. “Moderate” Democrats, meanwhile, no longer exist: In their place, we have “conservative Democrats.” Nobody pays attention to them either — unless, suddenly, one of them threatens to vote against health-care reform. And then he is vilified.

This is all filler for now. The ultimate joke is on analysts biding time until election day, when all of this will sort out to actual results that matter. Then we’ll see where the center of gravity really is.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....