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A Missed Opportunity

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

The media coverage of Barack Obama's first presidential news conference last night has been generally positive, concluding that he was commanding and resolute as he pressed his argument for an economic stimulus package, dramatically defining the stakes, marginalizing his critics and explaining how only government can come to the nation's rescue.

All that may be true, but I still think it was a missed opportunity for Obama. Rather than engage in a spirited dialogue with members of the press corps, Obama filibustered. After an eight-minute opening statement, he got through only 13 questions in an hour -- and allowed no follow-up questions. His answers were an oddly unexciting combination of familiar talking points and wonky dissertations. It wasn't particularly good TV, and it wasn't necessarily what Obama needed, either.

To "close the sale" -- as many pundits defined Obama's mission last night -- the president might well have been better off letting reporters probe beneath the placid surface of his regular pitch, especially if the result was a clearer view into his thought processes. Polls show that Americans support Obama the man in much greater margins than they support his plan. Giving the public a more visceral sense of why he believes in the stimulus package couldn't have hurt.

Worst of all, Obama engaged in one of the most frustrating rhetorical techniques: The straw-man argument. It wasn't fair for Obama to repeatedly suggest that the core opposition to his stimulus plan comes from people "who just believe that we should do nothing." The basic Republican position is considerably more nuanced than that, favoring tax cuts and opposing big-government spending. Obama was on much more defensible territory mocking the GOP for posing as the party of fiscal responsibility after doubling the deficit, and pointing out that calling his proposal "a spending bill, not a stimulus bill" is nonsense, since "part of any stimulus package would include spending -- that's the point."

In some ways, the biggest excitement last night came when Obama called on a blogger: Sam Stein of But when Stein asked whether Obama agreed with Senator Patrick Leahy's call yesterday for a "truth and reconciliation committee" to investigate Bush administration misdeeds, Obama ducked the question, saying "my general orientation is to say, let's get it right moving forward."

Two of the better questions elicited the only really new things Obama said.

CBS's Chip Reid asked Obama if he was revisiting his devotion to bipartisanship after getting so little backing from Republicans on the stimulus package. The president said he's still taking the long view on bipartisanship, even while doing what he has to in order to meet the immediate need.

"You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans -- going over to meet with both Republican caucuses; you know, putting three Republicans in my Cabinet, something that is unprecedented; making sure that they were invited here to the White House to talk about the economic recovery plan -- all those were not designed simply to get some short-term votes. They were designed to try to build up some trust over time. And I think that as I continue to make these overtures, over time hopefully that will be reciprocated.

"But understand the bottom line that I've got right now, which is what's happening to the people of Elkhart and what's happening across the country. I can't afford to see Congress play the usual political games. What we have to do right now is deliver for the American people."

ABC'S Jake Tapper asked Obama: "[O]nce all the legs of your stool are in place, how can the American people gauge whether or not your programs are working? Can they -- should they be looking at the metric of the stock market, home foreclosures, unemployment? What metric should they use? When? And how will they know if it's working, or whether or not we need to go to a plan B?"

Obama supplied some benchmarks: "[M]y initial measure of success is creating or saving 4 million jobs," he said. And although that measure may be hard to quantify -- when is a job "saved"? -- the others were more concrete. "Step number two: Are we seeing the credit markets operate effectively?" And: "Step number three is going to be housing: Have we stabilized the housing market?" Obama even volunteered a timeframe: "[I]f we get things right, then starting next year we can start seeing some significant improvement," he said.

Generally speaking, the press corps didn't acquit itself well, either. Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press chose to interpret one of Obama's comments earlier in the day as a prediction of permanent recession. Obama told a town hall audience in Elkhart, Ind., that without a stimulus bill, "our nation will sink into a crisis that at some point we may be unable to reverse."

Loven asked: "Can you talk about what you know or what you're hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent, when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?"

As a result, the record will show that the first response to the first question at the Obama's first news conference as president began: "No, no, no, no." Obama explained that what he and many economists have said is that "if you delay acting on an economy of this severity, then you potentially create a negative spiral that becomes much more difficult for us to get out of."

Caren Bohan of Reuters, who got the second question, asked about Iran -- not even the most pressing foreign policy matter facing this country, except possibly in certain neocon circles.

NBC's Chuck Todd questioned why the stimulus plan encourages increased consumer spending. "[I]sn't consumer spending or overspending how we got into this mess?" Todd asked. Obama countered that spending was actually not what got us into this mess, and that economists aren't the least bit worried about overspending right now.

Finally, Michael Fletcher of The Washington Post actually asked Obama for a reaction to baseball star Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used steroids six years ago.

I'll add one more disappointment for the night: It's hard to see any reason for Obama not to immediately overturn the Bush administration's ban on media coverage of flag-draped coffins. As Lara Jakes writes for the Associated Press, even military families are against the ban. But in response to a question from CNN's Ed Henry, Obama hemmed and hawed and said a review is underway.

Here's a look at the coverage:

David Jackson and Richard Wolf write for USA Today: "President Obama took his case for more than $800 billion in economic stimulus directly to the American people Monday, accusing Republican opponents of playing politics with a plan that's 'exactly what this country needs.'

"Fresh from a town-hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where the jobless rate has soared above 15%, Obama used his first news conference as president to press Congress to pass his spending initiatives and tax cuts or risk a Depression-like catastrophe."

Anne E. Kornblut and Michael A. Fletcher write in The Washington Post: "President Obama declared last night in his first prime-time news conference that the task of saving and creating jobs is more important than cultivating the bipartisan cooperation he promised to bring to Washington, and he pressed his case for the massive economic stimulus plan working its way through Congress...

"Obama repeatedly stressed the need for swift and aggressive action on the economy, pitting his plan against those who he said would 'do nothing' to assist a desperate public....

"Obama's remarks on partisanship -- a gridlock he once vowed to break as part of his signature campaign promise -- were perhaps most striking. Conveying exasperation with Republicans to whom he had extended an olive branch since taking office, the president said he will continue his outreach in the hope of a compromise down the line. But he will not, he said, allow political differences to trump the needs of the public."

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times: "Authoritative and unsmiling, gloomy rather than inspirational, Mr. Obama cast the nation’s economy in dire light and offered a barbed point-by-point critique of the Republican argument that his plan would just create more government jobs and authorize a raft of new wasteful spending.

"'It’s a little hard for me to take criticism from folks about this recovery package after they presided over a doubling of the national debt,' he said at the news conference. 'I’m not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.'"

Charles Babington writes for the Associated Press: "President Barack Obama looked comfortable enough at his first White House news conference, but he sounded like a man fed up with one thing: Republicans lecturing him about his $820 billion economic stimulus plan."

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "Obama controlled the tone of the East Room proceedings, speaking with utmost seriousness, gesturing with his hands and displaying a command of the facts. His lengthy, multi-part answers -- allowing for just 13 questions -- went well beyond what the journalists asked and defended his record while taking not-so-veiled slaps at the Republicans as 'folks who presided over a doubling of national debt.'...

"Obama smiled only once, while sidestepping a question from Fox's Major Garrett about Vice President Biden's comment that he and Obama agreed they had a 30 percent chance of getting an unspecified policy wrong. The president pleaded a faulty memory of the exchange....

"Afterward, MSNBC's Chris Matthews praised Obama's 'amazing ability' to communicate, while Fox's Bill O'Reilly called him 'very eloquent' but 'dull.'"

Jeff Zeleny writes in the New York Times: "It was a bookend moment.

"President Obama on Monday evening became the 10th American president to call on Helen Thomas at a White House news conference. And he was the first to call on Sam Stein, a reporter for The Huffington Post, whose Internet publication sprung to life during Mr. Obama’s candidacy." [Actually, it was founded in 2005.]

Alessandra Stanley writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Obama’s locutions are steady, fluent and often very long. On Monday night, even his fiercest warnings about the perilous state of the economy were bracketed by professorial disquisitions on everything from charter schools to electronic medical records."

John Dickerson writes in Slate: "Obama is not excessively didactic—though he did correct one reporter's characterization of the role of excessive consumer spending in the economic collapse. He's orderly. This is in great contrast to his predecessor, who sometimes spoke in small colloquial bursts. Those who found that to be George W. Bush's most irritating quality have probably already watched Obama again on TiVo for the delight of hearing a string of complete sentences. There may also be another group of people who tuned in or will see the sound bites from the press conference on Tuesday and will be reminded that they like Obama's moderate, careful tone and find that reason enough to give him more support for his big new program. But if Obama wanted to create urgency to get Congress to act or to spur people to call their representatives and demand action to avoid economic catastrophe, he didn't really do it."

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 10, 2009; 10:26 AM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis , Press Watch  
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Next: Quick Takes


It will be interesting to see how Froomkin bashers spin his criticisms of Obama's Q&A session last night.
I agree with Dan that he is far too verbose and often, although notable exceptions did exist, failed to answer the questions posed. I was particularly saddened by the failure to simply say, yes the press are welcome to view the coffins coming back to the US or to at least provide a justification for the current policy.
That said, I think it was an important step in countering the Republican efforts to categorize the package as nothing but pork.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | February 10, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

President Obama's enemies constantly underestimate him.

He's setting expectations and he's an amazingly quick study.

According to Sun-Tzu, intelligence is the most important thing in a leader, because leadership depends on making plans, then changing and adapting them to changing conditions on the ground.

Thank God we elected President Obama and the Democrats and not the McCain and the Republicans.

Republicans are arrogant incompetent greedy idiots.

America should never let them near the levers of power again.

Posted by: svreader | February 10, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I think the President was wise and thoughtful in allowing a gaggle of journalists to take up as little of the people's time as possible. If the questions are good and substantive, time is better spent providing a good and substantive answer. If the questions are stupid and snarky, they should be given courteously serious treatment and set aside. Citizens want to hear the President, not journalists. They already have shows and outlets of their own, let them blather there.

Posted by: gagkk | February 10, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Oh yes, we must have flash over substance, mustn't we? The prolitariat can't listen to reasoned arguements laid out over eight minutes.

Those who didn't sit their children down in front of the TV and show them what intelligence is and what a role model is missed a really valuable opportunity.

President Obama didn't miss any opportunity. Shallow Americans did.

Posted by: agolembe | February 10, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Dan --

Try not to be too disappointed after 3 weeks of a new presidency. For example, I too believe with you that there should be no hiding the costs of war - whether the remains of our service-people or the actual funding and arming of forces. Nevertheless, it is appropriate for the Commander-in-Chief to consult interested government agencies and military branches and citizen groups before making a significant policy change. There are many such items on the list of "possibly/probably wrong" whose proper study and weighed response will benefit our country.

Even on the matter of the stimulus plan, it is hard to keep abreast of the changes and of the opposing arguments to spawn new proposals "on the fly" at a press conference. That, surely, is an easy way to "put one's foot in it." Like you, I would sometimes like to hear the President be hard and clear, but he is governing now and that's a political game as much as it is one of astuteness. Again, I say, let's not rush things too rapidly. There is a lot to do.

Posted by: Jazzman7 | February 10, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Obama already has great numbers -- why he relied on a straw man argument is a good question for Froomkin to bring up.

We had enough of that from Bush and the GOP, no need for Dems to engage in it.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | February 10, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Well compared to Bush, it was night and day.

He was a wonk and at some points it felt like I was back in eco301, but I loved it. No more short answers and talking points. Instead we got to hear his thinking and he took his time to explain himself. All this adds to his credibility. He's put it all out there, the good and the bad, and explained away.

I agree on the follow ups... he should have allowed some of them. But the "do nothing" argument is not a straw man. I've been hearing Republicans make that argument online and on cable.

Posted by: gmckinney | February 10, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I was hoping that someone would ask him why he plans to take the census out from under the Commerce Department and put it under the White House where Emanuel will be in charge of it "the Chicago way." That is not a good idea, and anyone who thinks it is should do their homework to find out what the political results could be before they defend that decision.

Posted by: mafox1 | February 10, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

My litigator husband, a liberal Republican, observed Obama's answers had the effect of a filibuster but may be rooted more in his temperament and in experience thinking aloud in front of admiring law school students. But "he has to get his answers down to three minutes." And take follow-ups. He guessed that Axelrod and others might be taking him to task for his long-windedness as we speak.

For my part, I guess Obama chose explanation over brevity. He has a number of rhetorical and intellectual arrows in his quiver. Last night, for his first presser, he used the most tiresome one: the lecture. Not satisfying to many, but effective against his ideological foes, who now have to show equal mastery of the facts. He dared them to respond in kind, knowing they cannot.

Posted by: paxr55 | February 10, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Obama was asked by Helen Thomas who in the mideast has nuclear weapons and he refused to answer. Why?

Posted by: qualquan | February 10, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I guess Mr. Froomkin was at the press conference and was not given the opportunity to ask the President a question.

The President deliberately and effectively controlled the press conference so as to talk directly to the folks across the country instead being bogged down by trivial press questions. His answers and explanations were long but clear and direct. He did not hesitate to take political shots at the Republicans. It was an excellent presentation.

Only those with nano-second attention spans did not like the proceedings.

Posted by: pbarnett52 | February 10, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

The President did not directly address the items in the package. I felt like I was being pressured by a salesman. I don't need a news report from the President. I don't need him to tell me how URGENT it is that we do what he says. I need him to explain why he thinks the items in the package will be effective. Again, his arguments did not address how the package items are supposed to stimulate.

Posted by: primegrop | February 10, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Keep up the good work, Dan. I love Obama - hell, I went to the same high school he did - but that doesn't mean I want him to get a free pass from the press. Or from anyone, for that matter. He holds himself and this country to a pretty high standard. Imagine how great a leader he could be if we push him and pressure him and hold him to an even higher one.

Posted by: pilikia | February 10, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse


What blather! There are a dozen different articles on the stimulus, but none on the Obama's DOJ sticking with the Bush Administration's [abusive] usage of the state secrets privilege to block a lawsuit by innocent men who were kidnapped; beaten; tortured; imprisoned and left do die.

Amazingly, the Obama [world-class hypocrite] Administration sided with the criminal Bush Administration invoking this privilege -- even though Obama/Biden/Holder/Lederman and others in the Administration have all publicly expressed condemnation for this practice.

This is just another blatant example of the hypocrisy of Obama, and it is totally underreported in the MSM... wonder why?

Posted by: winoohno | February 10, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the observation that Mr. Obama got a bit "lawyerly" and did some filibustering, which is disappointing for those of us who wanted to hear some real stuff. But the poster above has nailed it re the Sun-Tzu comment. The two biggest treats for me were 1) He responded to all the parts of some of the (absurdly) complex questions, even if it was to not answer them, instead of going off on bizarre non-sequitur babbling, and 2) He never once looked like he was listening to and trying to make sense of answers fed to him via some implanted device. I was disappointed when Helen Thomas didn't respond with "I just wanted to hear you say nuclear correctly, Mr. President."

Posted by: SanDiegoBS | February 10, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

OK: Just now at the Fort Myers event, Obama has just opened up questions, eliciting laughter when he said, in a concession, apparently, to criticism of his performance last night, that he would "try to keep my answers short."

Posted by: paxr55 | February 10, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Welcome back to the future.

Posted by: svreader | February 10, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Obama's characterization of the Republican stance may have been simplified, but it is not a straw man. Throwing tax cuts at the economy is tantamount to doing nothing.

I do think Obama was a bit verbose. I love listening to a reasonable man speak at higher than an eighth grade level, but many Americans may have trouble adjusting. He did do some dodging, and could have called on more reporters and allowed for more follow-up. But I find more at fault with the reporters themselves. Of those thirteen questions, one was economically ignorant, one was about Alex Rodriguez, one was an attempt to get Obama to admit that Isreal has nukes. These are not stellar questions.

Obama can be more transparent, and the journalists can do a better job of holding him accountable. This was certainly a step up from the Bush and Clinton years, but both sides can do better.

Posted by: QuincyScott | February 10, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

primegrop you must have missed the part where he talked about money for schools or health records or making Federal building and homes more energy efficient. If you need more detail than that go read the bill it is widely available.For myself I found the event riveting. I LIKED the long detailed answers. I could see the President thinking, get that actually about his answer. Sentences properly constructed with a logical and COHERENT flow and actual English words you could FIND in a dictionary. How about the speaking events. Tickets on a first come first served basis. Not ditto heads only? How about that? Have to go. Going to picket my representatives office. One of those anti America for business cavemen who voted against this bill.

Posted by: pablo3rd | February 10, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Sure was refreshing to hear complete sentences and a display of familiarity with the subjects for a change.

We had better all hope that President Obama
does succeed. It is our success that is in the balance.

Posted by: wallace2 | February 10, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I agree w/the comment above re: changing the policy pertaining to returning coffins; this is a no-brainer that needs to be undone immediately.

On a personal note, I have to say I find Obama's speaking style a bit disconcerting in that while he makes it a point to look at the audience on his right & left, he pretty much ignores those directly in front of him, including the camera itself. In situations like the one last night, he needs to remember that he can only make eye contact w/the majority of his audience by looking into the camera.

Plus, after a few minutes of his back & forth, he makes ME dizzy!!

P.S. Still hate the new format for this column, btw.

Posted by: txrus | February 10, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm still curious why Chuck Todd implied that consumer spending was the cause of this.

A, it's really ignorant, and B, he made it up....

Posted by: vigor | February 10, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

The fact that you have heard, and may be tired of, these various discussions is not really the point. The fact that the press participates in the conference does not mean it is FOR you, it's to inform the citizenry.

Especially after so many years of smoke and mirrors and misinformation, the citizens of this country can truly use econ 101, and with that model in mind, Obama was brief and to the point.

QuincyScott is correct, while the 'do nothing' may have been oversimplified, it is simply not a straw man in this context. As he says, "throwing tax cuts at the economy is tantamount to doing nothing." He's right, and Obama is right to call them on it.

Look, we know you've done yeoman's work during these past years, and you have earned your stripes, unlike those now returning to the fold who mainly served as smarmy kissup artists during the Bush years (yes, David Gregory, I'm looking at you!). As Obama redefines the structure and workings of a press conference from the Bush 32 serial debacle, he deserves some running room.

The fact that you know that Republican 'cutting taxes solves everything' mantra is nonsense doesn't mean the public does. He's entitled to his seminars, and I think they may be an ongoing public service. Get used to it.

Posted by: drinkof | February 10, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

You know, it's amazing to me how hard everyone is towards Obama. He's been there three weeks, inherited an amazing mess on many different fronts, and people are coming down on him for doing this, not doing that, he should be doing this....The White House press basically slept through the last eight years, never really hammering Bush for anything (like torture, illegal wire tapping, illegal war in Iraq,DOJ, etc) Where was Bush while the economy was going to the dumps, he was taking a victory lap to all the talk shows with his wife! And still, all softball questions. This country has lost it's mind!

Posted by: eallman | February 10, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Dan Froomkin about President Obama lacking credulity when he said some people want to do nothing and are opposed to any stimulus bill. The President also was incorrect in blaming the Bush tax cuts for the current recession. The Bush administration's tax policies were very inequitable, but had very little, if anything to do with current economic woes.
The underlying cause was the lack of government regulation of financial institutions, allowing reckless greed and speculation. The lack of regulation was a legacy of the Clinton and Bush administrations, Democrats, as well as Republicans.

The president is articulate and generally as knowledgable about various policies and issues as was President Clinton. However he needs to become more concise in answering some questions, as President Kennedy was during his press conferences. Too many of Obama's answers seemed repeats of phrases and sentences from speeches he has recently given.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | February 10, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Guess what, Mr. Froomkin? This president doesn't approach press conferences as TV shows or as the exclusive province of the press corps. Call him verbose, lawyerly, whatever--he is brilliant and I'm so glad he is president. I'm glad you call it filibustering for him to speak in paragraphs and not sound bites.

Posted by: blessinggirl | February 10, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Republicans have had the White House 20 of the past 20 years; they controlled the House 12 of the past 16 years; The GOP has controlled the Senate 10 of the past 16 years. So where is the Nirvana the Republicans promised us if we let them control the agenda? Remember their hog-swill about 'free markets'? Instead they sh[t-canned America!

Posted by: sperrico | February 10, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

The first line should rear,"...have had the White House for 20 of the past 28 years;"

Posted by: sperrico | February 10, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Filibuster? Are you purposely trying to use loaded labels to gin up some controversy? The man gave several reasonable and thoughtful answers to questions about a complex and current crisis, and was polite with the inane and uninformed "professionals" who appeared to be there for face time...

It would seem that some were ready to find fault - no matter what he said.
Had he given short answers and short shrift to the clueless interlocutors I can easily imagine the criticisms being focused on the trite and trivial - oh wait that's already happening - never mind.

I'm no fan of politics but it's clear this crisis is being treated as a game by some of the participants, and the rampant, blatant hypocrisy of the Republicans deserves far more caustic commentary than the President offered last night.

It seems to me that in what appears to be a rush to judge the man, many critics and their analysis are not giving enough consideration to the very real fact that Obama is doing his on-the-job-training under extraordinary circumstances.

Watching our new president working through his third week in office, who can think on his feet, talk without a script and isn't afraid to welcome opposing POV makes me wonder whether the standard of measure being applied to his every breath is really reasonable - or just the usual media rhetoric to titilate our easily distracted attention.

Posted by: m1ke_h | February 10, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Saying the there are those wo want to do nothing is not a straw man. Some Repubs do believe hat this is simply another downturn, and no large spending should be made. This appeals to the House Repubs since they are from gerrymandered safe seats that speak to a base that does not want to pay to get out of the hole we're in. The plan they concocted is really a "straw plan", made up quickly so they (the Senate Repubs who have to run in a whole state) can say we have an idea. The Repub plan is a mish-mash of flotsam and jetsam left over from Bush's "plans" cobbled together by AEI.
You are too shell-shocked from the last guy's outrageous garbage to recognize more classical evasion and propaganda. The big difference is that Obama attempts to make sense. Please try to focus on the sense part until the wounds of the last 8 yuars scab up properly.

Posted by: doctort | February 10, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

"May you each stand ready when history calls your name". President Obama needs to pay more attention when history calls. He missed a chance at greatness. A great leader would have called upon the American people to act like Americans. Our government cannot do this alone. It will take every American to stand and do their part. The economy may have taken a broadside, but it is our confidence that is sinking. Fear has gripped our minds and closed our wallets. 5% unemployment is absolutely normal in our society. We are only a few percent off that mark. It is up to the rest of us, the other 90 something percent of Americans, to pull us out of this mess before it's too late. We can do that by believing in our country, living like Americans and trusting in God. Pay your bills on time. Take your family out to dinner. Buy that washing machine. Maybe even get a new car. Every dollar spent, generates seven more in new revenue. That's the ticket. If we don't have confidence in America then who will? We can, and we must, Buy Back America; before it's all gone. I'm depending on you.

Posted by: proximal1 | February 10, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Obama talks to Americans as adults. Not ADD afflicted ten year olds.

As an adult, I like that just fine.
To go old school, he "dropped some science" on the country (and the world) last night.

Dan, I have always enjoyed your column. But calling out the GOP dead enders by saying "doing nothing is not an option" does not amount to a straw man argument. In fairness, could the BarackStar have been more forthcoming regarding the mid-east questions and the flag draped coffins?
Of course.

All in all, after 8 years of Bush, I'll take last night's "lecture" and smile.

Posted by: crix | February 10, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I actually watched the Obama speech on the OnDemand DVR version of it - in full.

And I said, we have a real President now, one who can walk and talk and chew gum.

One who is dealing with America's real problems, not setting up paper tiger arguments and destroying our nation.

It felt good.

Even if the massive failure of the past eight years of overwhelming incompetence has almost destroyed the world's economy.

That's my feel.

Posted by: WillSeattle | February 10, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

you're a wonky dissertation.

Posted by: Rayr11 | February 10, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Dan Froomkin typed: "In some ways, the biggest excitement last night came when Obama called on a blogger: Sam Stein of Stein asked whether Obama agreed with Senator Patrick Leahy's call yesterday for a "truth and reconciliation committee" to investigate Bush administration misdeeds, Obama ducked the question, saying "my general orientation is to say, let's get it right moving forward."

Except for the fact that: President OBAMA DID say 'His white House will not brake the law. AND anyone who breaks the law should be charged with breaking the law and did not say 'Except for the bUSH's abrasives use of presidential power'. That is up to the legal people. Senator Leahy is one who can and should look in the these abrasives and maybe call for a Senate hearing on this and give the info. to the Justice Dept. to bring charges. OBAMA will take care to see that we do not have a bUSH/chaney lie fest ever again. As for now I want OBAMA to get us out of the mess left by the same bUSH people. The invasion, the spying on US citizens, the 'official secret' of what he did, and GETMO. There's more but that's a good start. Leahy and others in the Congress get on it and see if the bUSH/chaney broke the law. Good Luck!!!

Posted by: theemailman | February 10, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm disappointed with Froomkin's comments on the Obama/Biden administration. He seems to be bending backwards to be critical,but it isn't working well.

For example, on one hand, Froomkin wrote that Obama should have engaged in a lively discussion with the press, a "spirited dialogue with members of the press corps"...

But on the other hand, Froomkin went on to write that "the press corps didn't acquit itself well.."

Didn't he see the contradiction? He needs to hit the right tone and has no idea how to do it yet. A few more columns like this one and I--a great devotee who is grateful to him for his marvelous work during the Bush/Cheney regime--will quit reading Dan Fromkin's blog.

Moreover, methinks that the press corps has to be re-educated after slumbering through the 8 years of Bush.

Eallman put it well:

"The White House press basically slept through the last eight years, never really hammering Bush for anything (like torture, illegal wire tapping, illegal war in Iraq,DOJ, etc) Where was Bush while the economy was going to the dumps, he was taking a victory lap to all the talk shows with his wife! And still, all softball questions. This country has lost it's mind!"

Posted by: FedUp1 | February 10, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Dan, I also thought that the "Republicans want to do nothing" argument was intellectually dishonest, but I enjoyed it anyway, and understood why Obama used it - after weeks of failed bi-partisanship and a growing chorus of critics clamoring that he is too soft he had to dish out some licks.

Posted by: gposner | February 10, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse


I love your work; it is an every day must-read for me. I have two points.

1. I think Obama is right that the vast majority of Republicans (especially in the Senate) would prefer to do absolutely nothing about this economic crisis. Case in point, look at how many Republicans in the House voted AGAINST the Republican alternative stimulus bill. There is no other explanation other than they don't want to do anything.

2. it is interesting to watch my own positive reaction to Obama; even when I disagree with his direction (corporate tax cuts, bank bailout lack of plan, flags on coffins, national secrets, etc.)

Posted by: matt_ahrens | February 10, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

How convenient for the Republicans to get on the stump and attack this new crucial bill they did not vote for, being they obviously wish to see America fail. They call for transparency and disclosure, something President Obama campaigned on in his message of change and has clearly provided every step of the way from his first day in office and especially with this bill. The Republicans have used this process to politicize the most important stimulus bill in our history. Where were the stimulus bills they offered when Bush was ruining the US economy for 8 damaging years? Where was the transparency when House and Senate Republicans held secret meetings and locked Democrats out of those meetings again and again when the Republicans were the majority? Republicans have no credibility, no shame and are tremendous hypocrites. They ruined our country and now want to point fingers at the Democrats for doing what is needed to fix the mess the Republicans and Bush created for us all.

Posted by: Hillary08 | February 10, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Apparently some of the commenters do not really grasp or understand the scope of the economic situation. This is taking place worldwide. If we go down the rest of the world does too. Nonetheless little mention has been made in the media just how serious this is. Iam not sure if they even understand this or what. Perhaps they are too busy complaining about bi-partisanship!

The Republicans have dominated the airwaves with a lot of nonsense. Their arguments are hardly nuanced IMHO. Worse they are not supported by fact!

The media's focus on bi-partisanship is maddening. Time and time again Obama has reached out to the GOP. He has personally called and/or met one-on-one with many Republicans not to mention going to the Hill to talk with the entire caucus. Obama agreed to tax-cuts, but none of that has been enough for the GOP. So why are the media criticizing Obama when the GOP refuses to tango.

Furthermore the Republicans praised Obama for: addressing their concerns, taking time to meet with them and complimented the stimulus bill saying it was balanced. That is until Limbaugh started ranting against it. The Republicans chose to take Limbaugh's lead. Yet they are not even questioned about that either!

While Obama's answers were lengthy, they had substance and addressed the questions on the most part -- a few not so much, such as the ban on the flag-covered coffins. In regards to Iran his answer was disappointing; it seemed more rhetorical in nature than substantive.

Aside from the aforementioned, Obama explained the stimulus bill in layman terms that gave the public a better understanding of what is at stake at least in part. I think he accomplished that given the little amount of time he had. Obama made his points and yes even answered his critics in a way that was not condescending, but pointed.

Since the media have been remiss in their duty to inform the public, Obama needs to connect the dots for the public: explain the global economy's structural problems and what that means for the US. I get the sense that most Americans do not see the big picture or grasp the depth and width of this crisis.

There is no comfort in knowing that if the US economy tanks the entire global economy tanks along with it.

The importance placed on bi-partisanship pales in comparison!

Posted by: serena1313 | February 10, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

It is always interesting when pundits criticize complete answers to questions. They seem to believe that we are not smart enough to pay attention for more than 30 seconds. Also, it never occurred to me that the purpose of a news conference was to amuse the reporters. Oh my gosh, he is trying to really explain something rather than give a one sentence answer like Bush. I heard some reporters on Morning Joe call the press conference a home run. Obviously the judegments are a bit subjective. I liked it.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | February 10, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Our new President, even with all the shortcomings expressed by both our esteemed blogger and the previous posters, generally acquitted himself well in his inaugural press conference. However, it is readily evident that, when he doesn't have a ready answer, he is prone to severe hesitation, and the classic politician's dodge.

Hopefully, this is result of a man who thinks before he talks, and who will avoid digressions to overused, irrelevant talking points (like our previous commander-in-chief). I would suggest that, for future press conferences, Mr. Obama should post a staffer in the rear of the East Wing, who will make the appropriate gesture (the hand slash across the throat) to cut short the long winded responses, so that the White House press corps can avail themselves of follow up questions. If he does, then maybe the press will rediscover the habit of actually asking intelligent and appropriate follow up questions.

I think this president (as opposed to his predecessor) can handle it.

Posted by: MillPond2 | February 10, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

"The basic Republican position is considerably more nuanced than that, favoring tax cuts and opposing big-government spending."

I'm sorry, but what about a position based on only two things "favoring tax cuts and opposing bog gpvernment spending" is NOT nuanced at all, let alone "considerably" nuanced.

Nuance involves examining issues in depth, making judgements that may change due to circumstance or reality, things which certainly do NOT apply to the Republicans position.

Posted by: BigTimePatriot | February 10, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Geithner's presentation behaviors indicate he realizes he's in over his head, that he is not qualified for the job Obama gave him, and he's resorting to defensive bureaucratic responses. “We will have to adapt our program as conditions change. We will have to try things we’ve never tried before,” he said. “We will make mistakes. We will go through periods in which things get worse and progress is uneven or interrupted.” If you were a shareholder in a bank that was considering lending his company one or two TRILLION dollars, would you be in favor of trusting him with the money? Didn't think so. It's not really HIS fault, Obama GAVE him the job, and Obama will be responsible for what happens, (though he will NEVER admit it!)

Posted by: lightnin001 | February 10, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Second what BigTimePatriot said.

Posted by: dickdata | February 11, 2009 12:42 AM | Report abuse

I listened, off and on, to the press conference on the radio. I was immediately suspicious because the President was calling names, as if from a list (which was confirmed when I heard "DemocracyNow" on WBAI in NYC the next morning). I prefer the President to call journalists, without screened prepared list by Press Sec'y Gibbs.

Why did I keep turning off the press conference, the live "show"? I was hoping for some JFK-like press conference moments. I'm that old, but I've seen some segments on YouTube. Do I expect more from the man I voted for? Yes.

He's got time to learn. I'll wait patiently.

Posted by: NYCartist | February 11, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

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