Speed Reads

last night on late night

Obama tells Stephen Colbert he messed up by not giving Dolly Parton the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Monday's Late Show was all Stephen Colbert's interview last week with former President Barack Obama, and Obama took his share of needling.

Many Americans missed Obama during President Trump's tenure, Colbert included, he said. "Did you miss you? Did you ever look at something going on in the news and go, 'You know what this situation needs? A little Barack Obama.'" Obama laughed and said he'd only want another turn as president if he could call the shots from his basement. "I found the work fascinating," he said. "But I do not miss having to wear a tie every day." Colbert also poked at Obama's cadence, telling him that if you listen to his audiobook recording at double speed, "you can't tell that it's actually going faster," because it's "normal human talking speed." In another interview, Obama swatted back, telling Colbert, "If that was an imitation of me, that was terrible."

Colbert threw in some questions he believed Obama had never been asked, including: "How does Dolly Parton not have a Presidential Medal of Freedom?" "That's a mistake — I'm shocked," Obama replied. "That was a screw-up. I'm surprised. I think I assumed that she had already got one, and that was incorrect. She deserves one. I'll call Biden."

They also discussed more serious topics, like how Obama and his family stayed relatively grounded in Washington and amid their "outsized fame," and the downsides of president-elect Joe Biden facing a Senate led by "sand in the gears" Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "Look, I experienced divided government and I will tell you that gridlock and dysfunction is a recipe for not only not solving big problems but also growing cynicism among the electorate that further polarizes folks," he said. "I think that Joe's presidency will help lower the temperature" and he'll "have some success in building back social trust," but "we're going to have a larger challenge in figuring out what to do about this splintered media landscape" and its assault on shared facts.

Obama also ruminated on the temptations and weight of drone warfare. "The problem with the drone program was not that it caused an inordinate amount of civilian casualties — although even one civilian casualty is tragic," he said. "The problem is it starts giving you the illusion that it is not war." Peter Weber