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What Obama Didn't Say

You could argue that President Obama deserved an easy ride at his news conference last night, given the amount of time and energy he has to spend cleaning up toxic messes left behind by others. He was clearly determined to use every question to return to his chosen themes -- health care, energy, education -- and in that formal setting it's hard to get any president off his stride, especially one who has such a way with words. Still, it's hard to claim that the members of the press corps had a good evening. They never really laid a glove on him.

The most obvious omission was that nobody asked about either of the two foreign wars our nation is fighting. We're sending more troops to Afghanistan, and fairly soon we're going to begin suffering more casualties. What's our goal, and what's our plan to get there?

Granted, the nation and the administration have been preoccupied with the economic crisis. But even there, a lot of questions went unanswered because they were unasked. In his opening statement, Obama said we shouldn't "demonize" every investor or entrepreneur who wants to make a profit. So do efforts in Congress to recoup the egregious AIG bonuses through narrowly written changes in the tax code qualify as demonization? Does the president oppose such legislation? Would he veto such a bill?

The president said it was "not sustainable" to have "the majority of growth" in the economy being generated by the financial sector and to have intangibles such as derivatives counted as adding to the gross domestic product. He wants to ground the economy in "goods and services," he said. I agree, but there's a problem. Derivatives may be figments of our collective imagination, but they underpin a huge amount of the lending capacity in our economy. How is an angry and appalled nation going to come to terms with the hocus-pocus that Wall Street must continue to perform? Obama has spoken of the need for Wall Street culture to change. Just what changes does he have in mind?

The news conference came after a big achievement for the administration: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plan for rescuing the financial system had been given a rapturous welcome by Wall Street. Some critics said it wouldn't work, but a consensus seemed to be forming that it was at least worth a try. One thing Geithner didn't address, though, was whether a new infusion of government bailout money will be needed, sooner or later, to get the most troubled banks back on their feet. Obama probably wouldn't have wanted to answer a question about the potential need for more cash, but somebody should have asked.

Some listeners thought they heard flexibility or even retreat on the president's ambitious agenda of health care, energy and education. I heard the opposite -- a single-minded focus on these three initiatives, which Obama maintains are vital if the economy is to be put on sound footing. His strategy is to let Congress work out the details, but he was clear that he expects all of the Big Three to be reflected in the budget. One thing we'll learn about him, the president said, is that he's persistent. I'm going to take him at his word.

By Eugene Robinson  | March 25, 2009; 1:39 PM ET
Categories:  Robinson  | Tags:  Eugene Robinson  
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As is usually the case Mr. Robinson, you are spot on. Thanks!

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | March 25, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

eugene robinson:

"You could argue that President Obama deserved an easy ride at his news conference last night, given the amount of time and energy he has to spend cleaning up toxic messes left behind by others."

never mind that obama proposes the most activist, profligate and powerful government in history.

as presidents obama and bush are found of saying, their job is "hard work", so it would be bad form to ask too many questions...

our founding fathers would role over in their grave is they read eugene's article

Posted by: dummypants | March 25, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I would argue that MSM and Congress get away from the so-called center of power and visit local communities to see IF the stimulus is working, ways it can work rather than play the "gotcha" game to boost individual ego.

When Chuck Todd asked his inane question on sacrifice perhaps the President should have said while papers are facing a crisis I would ask reporters in this room or sitting in their studios to sacrifice some of their perks and attitude to report on the real suffering going on. That Congress sacrifice a sure bet on being re-elected to put the needs of their constituents first. I have not seen that from Republicans and now Democrats are playing the same tune. I see signs that the President is trying to govern differently but see Congress doing more of the same and ignoring what is good for the country.

I also find it strange that more MSM isn't going back into the Congressional record and comparing votes during the Bush administration and rhetoric now -- suddenly they are worried about a deficit? Now? If everyone has to sacrifice shouldn't Congress be proposing a pay cut for themselves? Oh yeah I forgot, it's everyone else who has to sacrifice -- not Congress, not Wall Street, not the media just the average very middle income citizen.

Posted by: Lemon7221 | March 25, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

You are asking the same questions some of us wanted to ask. If you look at who was on the list to ask questions, then you know why he did not get those questions. Also, the answers seemed like a struggling exercise for him. I could have not done any better, but I did not want the job.

I thought it was funny that many of the media missed the fact that he DID have a teleprompter, or I think I saw one, in the center. I will cut him some slack now, but eventually he has to shorten his answers or all of us will tune out.

Posted by: gsms69 | March 25, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

The President himself, in Petreus hearings before the Senate last summer, ask a question of Petreus/Crocker: 'what would victory in Iraq and Afghanistan look like?'. They gave a deer in the headlights look and no answer. Now He is the one who has to answer that question, and so far he has not done so.

Aside from that he handled the questions well. To get his longterm program going, he needs to put the benefits front and center before the American people. Just saying that ending foreign oil dependency and improving health care is not enough. He needs to put some numbers with both - ex. if we invest a hundred billion in renewable energy, we get a savings of 20 billion a year in foreign oil spending starting now and lasting forever - that saves us a lot in the longterm, gets us away from dependence on an unstable region and creates 2 million jobs here. I know he has said things like this in the past, but without keeping the benefits front and center, it just looks like a big deficit with little return. Compare it to buying a house (maybe not the best example now) or starting a business.

Posted by: mgferrebee | March 25, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

AH Yes
The race question without a doubt had merit. Mr. Obama handled it with CLASS. The President has been more vilified in 65 days than any recent President, for issues he did not create. Mr. Obama finally addressed that IDIOT Ed Henry from CNN; he has been at it since day one. Henry has not asked one question that has had any redeeming value during the Press Secretary briefings. He has personal cheerleaders back at the station, Campbell Brown comes to mind. Reasonable coverage on other networks reported, “What a novel idea in Washington the President wanting to know what he talking about” of course Eddie did not get it nor did the cheerleaders back at the station. The President laughs too much, the news conference in some circles was reported as being too somber. Give me a break!

HBO Special audience Chris Rock lamented.”There is not one white man in this audience who would be willing to trade places with ME and I am RICH. Point Ann Compton question had merit.

Posted by: msgbill | March 25, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

"You could argue that President Obama deserved an easy ride at his news conference last night, given the amount of time and energy he has to spend cleaning up toxic messes left behind by others."

It is irrelevant who left the mess behind at this point. It is very relevant to demand clarity on the proposals presented to solve the issues, and to hold the parties who now are responsible for the clean up accountable for their actions.

Asking for civility is fine. Asking for "free passes" is unconscionable.

Posted by: argie | March 25, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

We can discuss what was asked and what wasn't. But isn't it a breath of fresh air that we again have a president who will actually stand up and answer reporters questions in an open forum?

Whether he had a teleprompter available or least President Obama takes questions. Heck, they wouldn't even let the last Republican VP candidate answer questions during the campaign.

Posted by: amaikovich | March 25, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Poor Neo-Cons.
Obama is large
and in charge.
Now if we could only figure out a way to lock up (and gag) Cheney, plus Wolfowicz, Perl, Kristol, and the whole cabal, ...
No better yet, send them back home to Israel and put 'em in Gaza on patol.

Posted by: aurorasmith2001 | March 25, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Eugene states, in typical partisan fashion, that Obama's failures to this point are attributable to the distraction of cleaning up "toxic messes" left to him by others. If Robinson thinks it's bad for his boy now, just wait until the Republican president confronts the mess left to him in 2012.

Posted by: ddnfla | March 25, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

"our founding fathers would role over in their grave is they read eugene's article

Posted by: dummypants | March 25, 2009 2:04 PM "

Named by his English teachers, I suspect.

Posted by: thrh | March 25, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

The mess Obama was in last week was a mess he made not anyone else. He has been talking out of both sides of his mouth about the bonuses thing for the whole time he has been in office.

Obama was mad about the first set of re-modleing/airplane buys and bonuses paid out in January.

but did nothing to make sure it didn't happen again because:

He claims not to know know about the second set of bonuses until last week and that he was angry when he found out again.

However someone had told Dodd months ago to take provisions that would bar the awarding of bonuses out of the stiumulus package. Apparently somebody from the treasury department told Dodd anonymously.

Apparently the official administration policy on the issue is to be angry about the bonuses but to not do anything to stop them. While the President doesn't think people should take the bonuses, he also doesn't think the congress should create legislation to take the bonuses back.

Basically the problems Obama got into last week are probably going to be what brings his popularity down over the next few years, i.e. not having opaque views and having differenent views on any given subject depending on the situation.

Last weeks trouble was that he was both for and against these AIG bonuses. Thats his problem not anyone else's.

Posted by: DCDave11 | March 25, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Real Brother here.

I think its silly for the White Racists and Supremacists to keep trying to suggest that its the MSM that got President Obama elected. It gives them the false(and STUPID)sense that its the "job" of MSM to bring Obama down, to show him up, to grand stand and purport to be the scapegoat for whatever happens with his administration.

It has to STOP. Since when are reporters and commentators(Idiots like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Rielly) more knowledgeable on political matters then the people savvy enough and knowledgeable enough to actually get elected?

Its as if we are supposed to be surprised that a genius, a Constitutional Professor and a top flight graduate of Harvard an intellectual, is able to out wit and out smart a bunch of White Supremacists and Racists who are where they are for one reason and one reason only...they're White.

That President Obama is more on top of these issues then the MSM is really no more surprising when you look at it then him being more on top of it then we layman are.


Posted by: Realbrother86 | March 25, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Real Brother here.

And since we're here(and we're dressed)I wanted to also speak to this silly nonsense about when President Obama "knew" about the AIG bonuses and whether or not he was "really" upset or whether he secretly jumped for joy that those Idiots made him look bad.

Stop that. The fact is he reached out to those Executives as an olive branch to appease the White Racists and Supremacists on the right who put them in power and deregulated the industry in the first place.

Obama has NEVER been a fan of those money grubbers and shysters.

He was simply trying to unify the parties and quell the claims that he was a Socialist and was anti-business.

Keep pressing this issue and you will all soon find out what our President really thinks of these corporate pirates, you may end up with your feelings hurt.

Finally a word for that White Racist Bill Benett(Remember he's the Idiot who said if you want to reduce the crime rate you should abort all Black babies?), actually its too words...shut up.


Posted by: Realbrother86 | March 25, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

What Obama Didn't Say

It is more like “What Obama could not say? In the world of politics one must play by the rules and not everything can be said, so I am not surprised about anything that he did say. Politics are a ruthless game.
So I will just stay in prayer for a better tomorrow for all should we be granted favor to reach tomorrow. It is a dog eat dog world and only the strong survives. Yet keep hope alive in the process.

Posted by: Nisey01 | March 25, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

What Obama Didn't Say

What President Obama didn’t say is the truth of how corrupt the system is in dealing with the reality of our devastating economy. It is not in the best interest of him to say what can’t be said otherwise he may place himself in harm’s way. Our corrupt system is the main downfall of our country. Should they line their self up with the right way and do the right thing then would we see an improvement in this land which has been granted us all by the Creator. It is not President Obama’s whom can truthfully restore our country. It will be the efforts from each and everyone of us to clean up our act and respect this land and turn from our evil ways that our Creator will heal this land. President Obama may have laid out a plan to arrive at a restoration point but we all will need take heed and do the right thing.

Posted by: Nisey01 | March 25, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. It costs the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive an electric car. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.We have so much available to us such as wind and solar. Let's spend some of those bail out billions and get busy harnessing this energy. Create cheap clean energy, badly needed new jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What a win-win situation that would be for our nation at large! There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.

Posted by: BeyondGreen | March 25, 2009 10:13 PM | Report abuse

saul alinski teaches persistence.

Posted by: 12thgenamerican | March 25, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

President Obama should display better leadership by outlining the changes he wants in health care, education and energy, instead of letting Congress mostly shape the legislation. He seeme to be too deferential to Pelosi, Reid and other Democratic leaders in Congress. The result so far has been a retreat from some of his promises before becoming President, including earmark spending and a far less infratructure funding in the "stimulus" bill.

Reporters often do not ask the right questions at "news conferences" and presidents often evade answering difficult questions. According to news reports, the Obama administration seems to differ little from the Bush administration in trying to dismiss civil lawsuits relating to possible human rights abuses during the Bush-Cheney regime. Why aren't reporters asking questions about this subject and the related issue as to whether his "Justice" department is going to give free passes to former Bush administration officials for widely perceived abuses of power, violations of the Constitution and international law.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | March 25, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

I believe it is important to state the facts when asked certain questions. The president stated a fact last night, his administration did inherit this mess from the previous administration. Now, how do we fix it? We work together on it, try something (anything) to see if it works. I see the typical response on the hill from republicans (that same old ideology of trickle down, conservative spending, etc...).
Where were all these republicans over the last 8 years while we were spending so much in a war we should have not been in, in the first place? No conservative spending there, it was an open check book.

It seems to me that republicans think its a crime to spend money, here in the United States fixing our own problems, because they can't make any money on it.

Posted by: ssanford00 | March 26, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

After listening to the response from President Obama's press conference, you'd think he was caught in a porn video. Come on people, this is our first articulate president since Regan and one of the smartest Presidents since Jefferson. The CNN reporter who got his butt spanked by President Obama was so gratifying that I actually found myself guilty of a man-crush. The only thing that could top Presidents Obama's response would be to leap over the podium, pull out his belt and beat the daylights out dumb ass reporters who waste time with stupid questions. Go Gene and Go President Obama!

Posted by: Ahsay | March 26, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

President Obama's news conference shows that Obama is quite persistent and organize on how he is going to shape America. His main themes: health care, energy, and education shows that Obama's goal is to help the economy's most vulnerable parts. His three themes will help the average citizens no matter the age, and to help maintain resources for future generations. Recently, Obama's plans have not been in favor of republicans, because of their differences in political beliefs. Political beliefs usually determines the result of their political behaviors, and that is what the republican parties have been doing to Obama's plans. Because America is in such a crisis, both parties struggle to find the solution, and when Obama has plans to help, republicans will most likely turn it down, explaining the consequences of his plans. But, to be truthful, all plans, no matter if it's from Obama (democratic) or the republican party, there will always be consequences for every decision we make. Even if we try to eliminate the differences, it's almost impossible to eliminate their beliefs and behaviors. No matter how good Obama's plans are, we shouldn't be too confident that they will be pass, and we shouldn't be too flex up on his speeches and promises, because sometimes, things don't always go your way. The clash between political beliefs still will continue for a long time, but probably will decrease when all of this economic problems get better. Let's hope the government will make the right decision.

Posted by: classz_parade | March 27, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

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