Leno: 'I'm Conservative Fiscally and I'm Probably Liberal Socially'

Appearing as a guest on Tuesday's The Last Word on MSNBC to preview his interview with President Obama, NBC's Tonight Show host Jay Leno described his political views as "conservative fiscally" and "probably liberal socially" after host Lawrence O'Donnell asked him if he tries to hide his political views from the audience.

The comedian had positive words for President Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney, but was cool on Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Senator Fred Thompson.

Leno explained that he likes President Obama because "he thinks the way I think" that "People are basically decent," and then asserted that Bill and Hillary Clinton "are great minds at work."

Regarding Rommey, Leno labeled him a "decent guy," and, presumably referring to Democrats although he said, "Republicans," the comedian was befuddled at him being attacked for not paying more taxes:  "I think he's a very nice, decent man who chose to pay as little tax as possible and the Republicans beat him up for it. I don't understand it. That's your whole platform. What are you doing? Why are you going after this guy for not paying any taxes?"

He was more negative on Perry, suggesting that he was "narrow-minded" on women and gays. O'Donnell asked if Leno ever interviewed a political guest and got the feeling that he or she would be successful in the future, leading to the exchange:

JAY LENO: There are some I don't think they're ever going to make it. I never quite got the Rick Perry thing.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: You never fell for that?

LENO: No. It didn't, I never got that sense of gravitas, you know.

O'DONNELL: Because all the pros, all the great political analysts thought, "Oh, when Rick Perry gets in there, look out, here he comes."

LENO: No, I never thought that. It was just too narrow-minded for me. Whether it was on gays or women's issues or whatever it might be.

He lumped in Thompson a bit later: "Fred Thompson I never quite got. I mean, one minute you're President, next minute it's reverse mortgages. Wait a minute."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Tuesday, August 6, The Last Word on MSNBC:

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: When they sit down, when a George W. Bush sits down as a candidate for the first time with you, do you get a feeling, have you had feelings once in a while where you're sitting there going, "I think this is the one that's going to make it all the way?" Did  you have that feeling with-

JAY LENO: I don't know if I can say who's going to make it all the way. There are some I don't think they're ever going to make it. I never quite got the Rick Perry thing.

O'DONNELL: You never fell for that?

LENO: No. It didn't, I never got that sense of gravitas, you know.

O'DONNELL: Because all the pros, all the great political analysts thought, "Oh, when Rick Perry gets in there, look out, here he comes."

LENO: No, I never thought that. It was just too narrow-minded for me. Whether it was on gays or women's issues or whatever it might be.

You know, people like Bill Clinton, like Hillary Clinton, you realize these are great minds at work and they go and they think through their answers. And sometimes they're very good at evading it. And you get the sense, okay, they're trying to evade me, okay, we'll move  on because I'm not going to get any more out of this. And there are others that just kind of go.

You know, Fred Thompson I never quite got. I mean, one minute you're President, next minute it's reverse mortgages. Wait a minute.

(...)

[AFTER RECOUNTING THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA WAS HONEST ABOUT HIS MARIJUANA USE]

O'DONNELL: And what you see in a moment like that I think is you see he has a confidence about the country he's living in. Or at least about 55 percent of the voters of the country he's living in, that they're going to get that.

LENO: Well, the thing I like about him, he thinks the way I think. People are basically decent. I mean, if people didn't want to do the right thing, you couldn't have a country because there's not enough police. So people want to do the right thing.

And if you can convince them and tell them from your heart, it's like a lot of people I find don't necessarily agree with President Obama's Obamacare, whatever, but they like the man and they sense that he's trying to do, he's not getting anything out of this himself. He seems to be doing it for the right reasons. So that's why I think it goes along and that's why it passes.

(...)

O'DONNELL: I watch you and my bet is you get email, tweets, all this stuff saying, "You awful Republican." And the next night you awful liberal, I hate you, you conservative, you liberal. You're constantly getting it back and forth.

LENO: See, like Romney. I think Romney is a decent guy. I never thought he was a crook. I never thought he was an evil person.

I think he's a very nice, decent man who chose to pay as little tax as possible and the Republicans beat him up for it. I don't understand it. That's your whole platform. What are you doing? Why are you going after this guy for not paying any taxes?

But I brought him on and I treated him as I would anybody else. And he was fine. He was a terrific guest. I mean, I think that's the key. You have to have an open mind. You can't go in thinking, oh, this person's in this party, this person's in that party.

O'DONNELL: But like in that example you gave about the comic who comes out and says, "I'm a Democrat," and you told him bad idea. Is it your mission to keep your politics-

LENO: No, it is my mission to make people laugh.

O'DONNELL: But keep your politics hidden in the process, your personal politics and voting preferences.

LENO: Well, I think if you ask me about gay rights or anything like this, I think it's fairly obvious what my politics are. I like equality  for everybody. I mean, that's, I think whatever that makes you.

But I'm one of those people, I'm conservative fiscally and I'm probably liberal socially. Which I think the way most Americans are. You know, it's like with the gay issue most people go, he's like Eddie. You know, people, most people are like that. They're against it until they know someone who's that way. Oh, well, he's okay. And then it's all fine.

It seems like to me racial things, anti-gay things, it seems like the most ridiculous issue. My attitude is there are 1,400 seats in there. I want to sell a ticket to everybody. If a third is black and a third is gay and white, male, female -- fine. I've sold out the room, thank you. That's my job, to bring it all together.