If anyone thought President Obama’s weird penchant for discussing ultra-serious topics, ranging from rape to Benghazi, on late-night comedy shows was just an election thing, Tuesday’s Tonight Show appearance proved that isn’t the case. After a few minutes of bland banter about the president’s recent birthday, Jay Leno jumped into the terror threat that shut down dozens of embassies and sparked a global travel warning. Obama said Americans should exercise “some common sense and some caution,” but continue living their lives, lest the terrorists win.
“It’s a reminder that for all the progress we’ve made, getting bin Laden, putting Al Qaeda in between Afghanistan and Pakistan back on its heels, that this radical, you know, violent extremism is still out there, and we’ve got to stay on top of it,” Obama added, as those tuning in to hear some pre-bedtime comedy realized they’d be spending some significant time staring at the ceiling tonight.
Obama moved on to another heavy topic, the NSA surveillance scandal, but he actually had some good news on that front: “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” Of course, the president has admitted that the NSA collects phone and Internet data, but according to his definition, “What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an e-mail address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.”
Obama wouldn’t call Edward Snowden a traitor, but said “there are ways if you think that the government is abusing a program of coming forward,” citing an executive order he issued in October that created new protections for whistle-blowers in the intelligence community. “You don’t have to break the law, you don’t have to divulge information that could compromise Americans security,” said Obama. “If in fact the allegations are true then he didn’t do that.” Obama added that he was “disappointed” with Russia’s decision to grant the leaker temporary asylum, and said of the nation, “there have been times when they slip back into Cold War thinking.” However, he confirmed that he’ll still attend the G20 summit in St. Petersburg next month.
There was one big difference from Obama’s late-night appearances during the election: He didn’t put as much effort into his comedy routine. His best quips were about Hillary Clinton’s “post-administration glow” and what Leno called his new “bromance” with John McCain. “That’s how a classic romantic comedy goes, right? Initially you’re not getting along, and then you keep bumping into each other,” Obama said of his 2008 rival. (He couldn’t resist turning his praise for McCain into a dig at Republicans, saying, “He’s an example of a number of Republicans in the Senate, in the House, who want to be for something, not just be against everything.”)
Obama also made an unintentionally amusing remark while expressing that he has “no tolerance” for Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, which have become a global issue since the country is hosting the next Olympics. “If Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it,” said Obama. There probably won’t be many athletes in the pool when Sochi hosts the Winter Olympics, but the point still stands.