By Dan Froomkin
12:15 PM ET, 04/30/2009
President Obama's got a lot on his plate. That was the major takeaway from last night's wide-ranging press conference. Heck, there was so much to talk about that no one even got around to asking about the economy or Afghanistan.
Obama declared that his administration is "off to a good start" and reviewed the achievements of his first 100 days, from passing the stimulus package to banning torture. He shared somewhat alarming statements about swine flu and Pakistan, endorsed immigration reform, praised newly-Democratic senator Arlen Specter, and launched into important disquisitions on torture, state secrets and bipartisanship.
Asked to describe the biggest surprise of his presidency, Obama said: "I am surprised compared to where I started, when we first announced for this race, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.
"You know, when I first started this race, Iraq was a central issue, but the economy appeared on the surface to still be relatively strong. There were underlying problems that I was seeing with health care for families and our education system and college affordability and so forth, but obviously, I didn't anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
"And so, you know, the typical president, I think, has two or three big problems. We've got seven or eight big problems."
I think he grossly undercounted. (Make your own lists in comments.)
Asked how he plans to run the various corporations that have come under federal control, Obama had this to say: "You know, I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already. I've got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be....
"I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy, you know, meddling in the private sector, if -- if you could tell me right now that, when I walked into this office that the banks were humming, that autos were selling, and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran, and a pandemic flu, I would take that deal.
"And -- and that's why I'm always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government. No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that's not the hand that's been dealt us."
Tom Shales writes in The Washington Post: "The questions put to Barack Obama at his news conference last night covered nearly every topic but the Craigslist Killer, and if that had come up, Obama probably would have answered it in stride. You ask, he'll answer -- earnestly, disarmingly, enchantingly, even -- and most of the time convincingly, which is no small accomplishment for a politician."
U.S. News's political bulletin reports: "Post-news conference analysis on the cable news networks was basically positive, though on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly criticized the President for not calling on the network's Major Garrett, who 'was in the front row,' so 'all he got were liberal questions from the media.' But on CNN, David Gergen said, 'In terms of mastery of the issues, we have rarely had a president who is as well-briefed and speaks in as articulate a way as this president does.' John King said on CNN, 'As a performer, he is unrivalled right now in national politics. That is one of the reasons he's trying to do so much so soon. Because he knows he doesn't have a viable opposition at the moment. So while he has the strength, he's trying to use it as much as he can.' On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann said, 'If watching him tonight, you got the sense Mr. Obama has tried to accomplish 1,000 days of work of change in one-tenth the amount of the time, that is likely no accident.'"