We haven’t watched David Letterman’s television program in many years, mostly because a lecherous old grouch making gruesome faces as he sneers at us is no longer so amusing as it was back when it was avant-garde, so we missed Tuesday’s appearance by Barack Obama. More diligent journalists who did sit through the show have since reported on the proceedings, however, and their descriptions raise serious doubts about Obama’s memory.
The President of the United States went on the show to plug his latest project, as celebrities are wont to do, and apparently found the host even obsequious than usual in his efforts to help out. Letterman asked Obama to respond to Romney’s much-publicized comments about the 47 percent of Americans likely to support the president, offering a rather misleading synopsis of the remarks, thus giving his guest an opportunity to wax eloquent about his desire to work on behalf of all Americans, and similar softballs were lobbed chest-high and over the middle of the plate throughout the interview. In a rare moment of lese-majesty, however, Letterman did raise the embarrassing matter of the national debt. He didn’t bother to question Obama’s self-serving and entirely wrong account of the deficit he inherited, but Letterman aggravated the gaffe by asking how much debt the country has currently accumulated.
Obama replied that he could not remember.
Such a lapse is worrisome. Although Obama could hardly be faulted for not knowing the precise number, which had increased by many millions during the short minutes of the interview, it is fair to expect that such a famously bright fellow should always have it on the very tip of his silver tongue that the national debt is in the pricey neighborhood of $16 trillion. It’s a memorably large number, much larger than anybody but astronomers and theoretical mathematicians ever had occasion to use until recently, and one should be able to expect that somebody in the government would be particularly attentive to it.
There was another similar moment of forgetfulness during the interview when Obama proudly boasted that he had never questioned the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with him. Sharper memories immediately recalled that a mere four years ago Obama had said that the $4 trillion of debt piled up during the eight years of the Bush administration proved that his predecessor was “unpatriotic.” The strain of having added $5 trillion to the debt in just four years makes it somewhat understandable, but it’s still troubling that someone so young exhibits such forgetfulness.
— Bud Norman