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From Obama, Presidential Prose

Mario Cuomo once observed that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. That truth was on display at tonight’s prime-time press conference, in which a president renowned for his soaring rhetoric found himself instead mired in the prosaic. He instructed Americans to wash their hands, cover their mouths when they cough and keep their sick kids home from school. That assignment accomplished, President Obama moved on to the auto companies, asserting that “GM has a lot of good product there,” although, as he acknowledged toward the close of the hour, “I’m not an auto engineer. I don’t know how to create an affordable, well-designed, plug-in hybrid.”

Not exactly "we are the change that we seek” lyricism.

Running for president is about sketching a vision; being president is about executing -- not just the plans you and your advisers had in mind but, as George W. Bush learned the hard way, with Hurricane Katrina, also the tasks that fate throws your way. The past few weeks have reminded me of the old Monty Python line “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Floods in Fargo, piracy off the Somali coast, swine -- sorry, H1N1 -- flu; nobody prepared position papers on these during the campaign. Nor on the Spanish Inquisition, for that matter.

As to the items that were part of the campaign -- well, prosaic politics dictates a certain realism there as well. So Candidate Obama was happy to say that he supported the Freedom of Choice Act, to guarantee a federal right to abortion; President Obama was blunt about where that proposal stands: “Not my highest legislative priority.”

And as to his real priorities, there, too, the president displayed a certain -- and, to some extent, self-serving -- world-weariness as his 100th day drew to a close. Asked what he had found humbling about the job, Obama offered, “...There are a lot of different power centers. And so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line.” Something he probably knew before, back in the good old poetry days.

By Ruth Marcus  | April 29, 2009; 10:16 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Asked what he had found humbling about the job, Obama offered, “...There are a lot of different power centers. And so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line.” The problem is, he's so self absorbed he atually thought it might turn out that way. The way he arm-twists bankers and fires CEOs, he may need to change a few laws so what he's doing is actually legal. I can't wait to see the shareholder lawsuits from the pension funds getting hammered by his deal to give Chrysler to the UAW and leave the pension funds sucking eggs.

Posted by: hdc77494 | April 29, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

I must say this was a well-orchestrated news conference (speech). I suspect this is how he will institute our socialistic state, neatly orchestrated. How sad.

Posted by: GordonShumway | April 30, 2009 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Still looking for something to pick at, aren't you? Every worn out conservative, like "Gordon" before me, just wants to drag down the president as he tries to fix the monumental mess made by Bush and the Republican party. How sad.

Posted by: 0nl00k3r | April 30, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

blah, blah, blah

Posted by: cintronlourdes | April 30, 2009 7:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm a big supporter of President Obama's but I have to say I've never quite bought into the "soaring rhetoric" Barack Obama. "We are the change that we are waiting for" is not original with him, although he delivered the line well.
What always impressed me was his balance of self confidence with humility regarding what is possible. He's always been a nuts and bolts guy, as most of his campaign speeches will indicate.
I didn't vote for soaring rhetoric. I voted for change coming by way of a young charismatic, pragmatic man who has a clear vision in certain areas and will practice the art of the possible rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Posted by: MikeKF | April 30, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

As usual, the media fell in line. Why won't reporters ask tough questions such as the following:
1. During the campaign, you denounced the $2.3 trillion added to the national debt under Bush. If you really disliked "deficits as far as the eye can see," why does your budget add $9.3 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years?
2. During the campaign, you attacked "government-run health care" as being "extreme." Yet, at a meeting recently, you said, "Why not do a universal health care system like the European countries?" What has determined your change in position?
3. Why do you continue to outsource the contents of legislation to Congress? For example, the White House specified less than one-quarter of the contents of the stimulus bill, and Representatives Waxman and Markey are writing the cap-and-trade legislation. You appear to be ambivalent about the substance of legislation. Why?
4. To achieve the 3.675 million jobs that you promised to create or protect over the next 2 years, you would need to create or protect 249,400 jobs per month. Is that happening?

Posted by: judithod | April 30, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

While the rest of us are relieved to have a President smart enough and articulate enough and organized enough and inspiriing enough to lead the country through -- not just one -- but several massive crises (economy, wars, pandemic), the far right shows its crabby and fearful single-voice chorus of how much they hate every move he makes. They sound like the muttering old guys in the Muppet movies, only not as funny.

They don't seem to realize or understand how that plays. If someone -- or a homogenous group -- has only one note to play, one song to sing, they are going to be discounted and dismissed. They all sound exactly alike, down to the same words. While it's hard to be in the minority, it's also possible to be gracious and objective and honest and rational. We can all imitate that one-note chorus because it's so predictable and obvious. No ideas to offer, they just want to see the country fail.

The consensus of the majority of viewers and voters here and abroad is that we are incredibly lucky to have this administration at work. Moderate Republicans like David Brooks agree. But there are so few GOP moderates (are there any left?) that we don't hear that perspective. We only hear foaming-at-the-mouth fear and anger. Take a breath, fellow Americans. The sky isn't, in fact, falling. And with the new-found optimism and joy and energy of the rest of us, and American resilience, we'll make it through these crises stronger than before.

The GOP would be wise to direct its fear to what's happening to its own ranks. There used to be calm, moderate voices. Now we only hear the extreme right of the party. I think even Karl Rove has sounded alarmed about that recently.

Posted by: cturtle1 | April 30, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse


Very well said. If they really wanted to, the GOP could be sane and thoughtful and still be in opposition to Obama and the Democrats. There could be rational discussion about the bailouts, war timetables, response to swine flue, etc. And even if they lose it can't hurt them to look good doing it. But today's GOP just doesn't wanna do that.
Nuts and bolts thinking is what we need right now and Obama is offering the best available. I agree with MikeKF that Obama won and is still popular because of this, not because of the beautiful rhetoric. If the GOP wants to start winning seats again, they need to start making competing nuts and bolts plans.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | April 30, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Is it necessary to remind Mrs. Marcus that Obama had not lead the country to its complete crash in economy and in International affairs. That was done with the intensive and extensive participation of Mrs. Marcus beloved runner for the presidency - Mrs. Clinton. In difference with her, Obama is trying, as much as he could, not to trash everything what is still left, but rebuild and revitalize. If he were able already to isolate completely from acting power and destructive, and fully senseless critisism, like this article is, not only Mrs. Clinton, but all her active supporters, like Mrs. Marcus, for example, his job, surely, would have been much easier.

Posted by: aepelbaum | April 30, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

...and your point being? Another easily disposable confusing and uninspiring anti Obama diatribe. Off to Happy the Hampster's cage you go Ms. Marcus!

Posted by: elizabeth6 | April 30, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

"found himself instead mired in the prosaic"

Oh, puh-leeze. Here's some prose for you.

Marcus is an irrelevant, overpaid hack.

Anyone else notice how the WaPo Op-Ed section has turned to sh*t the past couple of years?

Way to go, Hiatt.

Posted by: phoenixresearch | April 30, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

cturtle1 & bigbrother1


Just saying "no" and not putting forth and ideas is not going to do it for the Repubs. The country will listen to ideas but they have none.

Pres. Obama was a great campaigner and is a very good President because he governs by listening and then acting. You will not see him in a flight suit with a "Mission Accomplished" sign from him.

Posted by: rlj1 | April 30, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Our President was duly elected by an overwhelming majority and he is doing a great job. For those who at every single feeble opportunity get on here to nip and scratch, from the arrival of Bo to this particular piece of nonsense ,my message is, GET OVER IT.

A short lesson and reminder:

History for Dummies. For those who appear to be Cheney/Bush regime challenged let's try once more. Slowly repeat after me:
Hussein was not threatening our shores.
Iraq was not a threat to our sovereignty.
Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction
Bush did not need to hand deliver a war to the Middle East.

Posted by: elizabeth6 | April 30, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

What a prosaic way to say for the umpteenth time, Obama hasn't made everything perfect yet so he is a failure. And I don't hear that "my country right or wrong" stuff from the Republicans any more. I guess they only meant the MY country part.

Posted by: KennyBoy | April 30, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Was there a point here?

Posted by: joebanks | May 1, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

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