Conservatives jump on president's description of four deaths in Libya as "not optimal"
President Obama's appearance on "The Daily Show" was supposed to be a chance to rally his liberal base in front of a supportive crowd in a comfortable setting.
But he may have gotten too comfortable.
"The Daily Show" is a world of subtle humor and understatement, and Obama was too understated when he described the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya as "not optimal." He was responding to a question in which Stewart also used that phrase.
But when Obama's words were taken out context — and would you believe they immediately were? — he looked like he was coldly assessing the deaths as just another problem.
Asked about the attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others, Obama said he "wasn't confused about the need that four Americans were killed" and that security needed to be ramped up worldwide. "And I wasn't confused about the fact that we're going to hunt down whoever did it," he said.
Obama also said the administration released new information to the public about the attack as soon as it became available. But Stewart said it sometimes appeared that not all areas of government were coordinated, given that the story changed over time.
"I would say and even you would admit it was not the optimal response — at least to the American people as far as all of us being on the same page," he said.
"Here is what I will say: If four Americans get killed, it is not optimal," Obama responded. "And we're gonna fix it… all of it. And what happens during the course of a presidency, is that, you know, the government is a big operation, and at any given time, something screws up and you make that sure you find out what's broken and you fix it.
"Whatever else I have done throughout the course of my presidency, the one thing that I've been absolutely clear about is that America's security comes first and the American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, national security and protecting Americans."
A slew of conservative commentators jumped only on the "optimal response" line — as did mainstream news organizations, cognizant of how badly the remarks might play for the president.
The image of Obama as someone barely concerned about lost American lives doesn't gel with his remarks in Tuesday's debate, when he talked about going to meet the caskets of dead Americans when they arrive from overseas, and said that he took responsibility for every American death.
Perhaps he thought that having made his concern clear, he could revert to understatement Thursday without anyone jumping on him for it.
Watch the video (the "not optimal" line is at the 5-minute mark):