Ten Questions for Obama

By Dan Froomkin
12:35 PM ET, 03/24/2009

Obama's February news conference. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

President Obama holds a press conference tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Here are some of the questions I'd like him to answer:

1. After last week's disclosure of an International Red Cross report, there's no longer any doubt whatsoever that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques amounted to torture. And, in addition to what the CIA did, hundreds of detainees -- many of whom may have been entirely innocent -- were terribly abused at Bagram and Abu Ghraib prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, among others. Assuring that detainees are treated humanely from this point forward is one thing. But don't we owe it to the detainees, to the world, and to ourselves to fully understand what was done to whom, and to hold to account those responsible? Leave the politics aside for a moment: Ethically, what is the least that we as a nation are required to do?

2. Your hugely ambitious budget proposal is an assault on the Washington establishment and the status quo. You've said that yourself. But to get it passed, you need the support of Congress: the very people who either made -- or at the very least acquiesced to -- the "irresponsible policy choices" that you argue brought us to this point. (And yes, that includes much of the Democratic leadership.) Presumably, these members of Congress felt they were acting in their best interests then; why do you believe you can get them to so dramatically reverse course -- especially when it would require them to do more in the next few months than they've done in years?

3. Who is your primary audience in the coming weeks as you go about stumping for your budget? Is it Congress? Or are you resigned to the fact that Congress will balk at following your lead until or unless the public expresses its will more assertively? If the latter, what gives you confidence that you can marshal an effective grassroots movement, or that individual members of Congress will heed it?

4. When it comes to the bailouts of financial institutions, it seems like the taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick. Why shouldn't the banks and insurance companies that would be insolvent without taxpayer funds be put under the direct control of the government? And, yes, we know that your top economic advisers tell you that's not a good idea, but why do you trust them? And what makes you so sure that the growing number of eminent economists who think that your advisers are too beholden to Wall Street and that short-term nationalization is the only reasonable answer are wrong?

5. Your new financial rescue plan, according to New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman, offers "a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn't really about letting markets work," he writes. "It's just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets." Why do you disagree? And why do you think it's fair for taxpayers to bear the cost if things go wrong, but for stockholders and executives and hedge funds to get the benefits if things go right?

6. On the key issues being debated in the White House these days, whose advice to you listen to the most, and why? What exactly is your political adviser David Axelrod's role in setting economic policy? And how do you resolve conflicts between trusted advisers?

7. You've talked in the past about how your administration will inevitably make mistakes. What's been your biggest mistake so far? And what did you learn from it?

8. Some of your administration's moves have appeared to validate key elements of Bush's anti-terror strategy -- quite a surprise given your stated positions during the campaign. For instance, there was your Justice Department's support for an outrageously broad application of the state secrets privilege in a case in California, and the recent assertion of your right to hold certain prisoners indefinitely, without charge. Are these just short-lived aberrations that you intend to resolve after some more due diligence? Or have you found that the exigencies of national security make things a little less black and white than you expected?

9. Why do you think your honeymoon with the political and media elite has ended so much faster than your honeymoon with the public? And what do you intend to do about it?

10. Why hold a news conference if you're just going to fillibuster each question and not take follow ups?

I could go on. But why don't you? My White House Watchers discussion group is open for suggestions. There's also a new experiment in collecting citizen questions here.

On Huffingtonpost.com, Ari Melber raises some questions about tonight's press conference, including: Will President Obama call on more New Media?

I'm also wondering: Will reporters try to turn tonight into a public grilling of the president over the AIG bonuses -- or whether he appears sufficiently angry or insufficiently depressed in his public interviews -- or will they ask questions of substance?

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