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Student Reaction: Obama’s Fluffy Appearance on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ at UNC

A week ago, no one at UNC Chapel Hill knew that both President Barack Obama and Jimmy Fallon would be making appearances on campus. Then, news started trickling out that a presidential campaign stop and policy speech was scheduled. On Friday, an email was sent out allowing seniors an opportunity to register for a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, filmed at UNC’s Memorial Hall, with Obama and Dave Matthews as guests. The cost to students: nothing more than their time.

Why would we be so fortunate? “We’re just that awesome” summarizes one narrative. Well, guess what: we are awesome. But that’s not the true cause of Obama’s visit.

Obama is on tenuous ground on a number of fronts that converge in the Old North State. First, only 48% of 18-24 year olds want him back in office. It’s bad news for a president who was widely beloved by youth in 2008–hence his college tour. Also, North Carolina is a swing state that barely went blue in 2008. Obama holds–at best–a narrow lead in the state. Democrats are holding their convention in Charlotte at the end of the summer, and are heavily invested in keeping NC in their camp.

Unfortunately for them, it’s a bad time to be a Democrat in North Carolina. In 2010, the state legislature flipped to the Republicans for the first time in over a century. Embattled governor Bev Perdue abruptly announced at the end of January. She will not seek reelection. State party chair David Parker is expected to resign over allegations he facilitated a cover up of sexual harassment. The president mentioned none of that.

Instead, Obama’s sole focus was on student loans–both during his policy speech at Carmichael Arena and during his conversation with Fallon. Never mind that, of all possible points of divergence between Obama and Romney, this is the least pronounced. Students are up for grabs, and Romney too favors keeping down the interest rate on student loans. That rate is due to double unless Congress intervenes.

The majority of students here at UNC strongly hope to see Obama get reelected in the fall. As a libertarian myself, Obama pushes most of the wrong buttons with me. But, like a number of students, I nevertheless got up at the crack of dawn Monday morning to stand in unseasonably chilly weather to jockey for a great seat at Memorial Hall. Similarly, many students not eligible for Jimmy Fallon tickets camped out at Carmichael Arena to get a ticket to Obama’s policy speech.

Most students understood the reason behind the President’s visit. On a basic level we were being pandered to about a student loan accounting issue that both major candidates substantively agree on—all this simply to score political points.

There are many more important issues the president could have addressed. After all, this is a president who continues to abuse civil liberties and who has authorized the killing of American citizens using automated drones. Yet he cares about our student loans—how comforting.

On Tuesday UNC students were granted a unique opportunity to see the President in a setting that was uncharacteristically informal, especially in an election year. Plus we got to experience the taping of an entertaining television show. With all that excitement, it was damn hard to care about anything but the moment. That’s awfully satisfying for people who, considering the current youth unemployment rate, are soon going to have far more serious things to care about.

Fix Contributor Cameron Parker is a senior at UNC.

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