I rarely catch late night television, so it was a bit of a surprise to me that President Obama was on Dave Letterman’s show last night. I much prefer the Letterman format of keeping a guest around instead of shooing them away after a couple of segments, though maybe that’s the norm for Letterman too and Obama was the exception. It was a really good appearance, with some truly funny moments (the highlight being the heart-shaped potato), personal ones (Obama talking in depth about the struggle for normality for his daughters), and policy issues – Obama essentially summed up his rationale and policy objectives for the economic crisis, health care reform, and Afghanistan in the space of thirty minutes. All between commercial breaks.
There’s no transcript yet that I can see but I wanted to note that Obama made a special effort to assert that he would not send more troops to Afghaistan unless there was a compelling argument for how the additional manpower would be used for success. Like social problems, military ones can’t always be solved by simply throwing more resources at them (a lesson learnt well in Vietnam). Given my post yesterday I am really much more soothed that Obama will indeed assert his command and not be pressured by the military to send more troops. I’m not against more troops per se, but I am against sending them on an ill-defined mission and without any real strategy for success. Obama spoke clearly to that responsibility, mentioning that he has to write a letter to parents of soldiers who don’t come back, and wants to be able to tell the families that their children’s sacrifice was worth something.
All in all, I think Obama achieved more in terms of explaining his policies than he ever did during his televised formal addresses to the nation. Though it helped, as Leterman pointed out in monologue, that all Republican Congressmen has been removed from the building prior to Obama’s arrival
Also, I do expect we will see that heart-shaped potato in the Smithsonian. Obama, you promised.
Here’s the full video from CBS.com of the Obama episode.