Bloomberg News

Obama Says Qaddafi’s Death ‘Strong Message’ to Dictators

October 25, 2011

(Updates with student loan proposal in 13th paragraph. For more on the 2012 presidential campaign, see ELECT.)

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said the overthrow and death of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya is a “strong message” to other dictators that “people long to be free.”

Qaddafi had the chance during the so-called Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and Africa “to finally let loose of his grip on power and to peacefully transition to democracy,” Obama said in an interview on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” taped for broadcast tonight. Portions of the interview were released by NBC.

“We gave him ample opportunity and he wouldn’t do it,” Obama said of the long-time Libyan leader who was killed last week as he tried to escape anti-government forces. Qaddafi’s death “sends a strong message around the world to dictators that people long to be free.”

Obama also said he hasn’t been watching the debates among the Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination to oppose him in 2012.

“I’m going to wait until everybody’s voted off the island,” Obama said to laughter from the studio audience. “Once they narrow it down to one or two I’ll start paying attention.”

Politics and Policy

Obama is on the second leg of a three-day trip to Nevada, California and Colorado to raise money for his 2012 re-election campaign and promote his economic policies.

The stop at the Burbank, California, studio of the late- night comedy and interview program is Obama’s fourth and his second since taking office. Obama also has appeared with Leno’s competitor, David Letterman, on CBS, on ABC’s daytime interview show “The View” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

Public officials and candidates for decades have turned to such programs to reach beyond their core supporters to those who don’t tune into traditional news shows.

“Americans are busy” and they get their information “in a variety of ways, in a variety of media,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president. “We’re interested in reaching folks where they are.”

Leno’s Political Jokes

Politics and politicians are frequent targets of jokes by Leno, who is averaging 3.61 million views a night since the new television season began last month, according to Nielsen data.

The comedy format also carries some risk for the guest. The last time Obama went on Leno’s show, in March 2009, he had to call Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver the next day to apologize for a joke in which he equated his bowling skills with participants in the Special Olympics, which is for people with disabilities.

From “The Tonight Show” Obama traveled to San Francisco for the fourth of six fundraisers on the trip, a lunch for about 200 people with a performance by singer Jack Johnson.

Tomorrow in Denver he’ll highlight a move by his administration to cut the burden of education loans. As many as 5.8 million people who have student loans through both the direct government loan program and the Federal Family Education Loan program would be able to consolidate what they owe into a single government loan with lower monthly payments and interest rates, according to a White House fact sheet.

Obama also has two fundraisers scheduled while in Denver.

California Visits

Since taking office, Obama has visited California 10 times and almost every stop has included a fundraiser.

Last night in the Los Angeles area, Obama told approximately 40 guests, including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers star turned entrepreneur, actor Will Smith and his wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and singer and actress Hilary Duff, that he’s gotten “about 60 percent” of what he’s wanted accomplished. “That’s not bad for three years because I need another five.”

Obama then went to the home of actors Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas for another fundraiser with about 120, mostly Hispanic, supporters. Tickets for the event started at $5,000, the party official said.

At that event he was introduced by actress Eva Longoria and cited an immigration overhaul as a promise he had yet to fulfill. He also underscored his support for granting residency status to certain young illegal immigrants, an initiative known as the Dream Act, which stalled a year ago.

With the fundraisers, Obama’s campaign expects to raise at least $5 million dollars for his re-election fund.

Unemployment Rate

Obama is heading into the 2012 election year with the nation’s unemployment rate stalled at 9.1 percent in September and the White House Office of Management and Budget forecasting it will average 9 percent next year.

Obama won Nevada, California and Colorado in 2008 and all three states have a higher unemployment rate now than they did when he took office. Nevada has the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, followed by California. Its unemployment rate, at 13.4 percent in September, also is the highest in the U.S.

In Las Vegas yesterday, Obama highlighted a plan by the Federal Housing Finance Agency to expand a program aimed at aiding the housing market by allowing qualified homeowners to refinance no matter how much their homes have declined in value.

While California has been reliably Democratic in the last five presidential elections, Colorado and Nevada are swing states that went Republican in 2000 and 2004.

--With assistance from Margaret Talev in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Robin Meszoly

To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at

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