Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Professor-In-Chief at his Fourth Prime-Time Press Conference (video)

Give me credit. I watched President Obama’s entire press conference this evening even though the professor-in-chief was back giving long, detailed answers to every question. Tuned to CBS I waited until Katie Couric wrapped it up with Bob Schieffer and Nancy Cordes, neither of whom seemed impressed. Schieffer, one of Obama’s early unabashed media worshippers, declared that Obama was trying to take control of health care reform. Couric and Schieffer both seemed concerned that with this fourth prime-time press conference in six months and other public events, the president was in danger of over-exposure.

My mind wandered a few times during the president’s latest appearance, although I woke up momentarily when Chris Parsons of the Tribune asked why Mr. Obama’s promises of transparency have not always been fulfilled. She referred specifically to a Freedom of Information request filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington seeking the names of health care lobbyists who have visited the White House recently. The president hastily noted that a letter had just been sent out naming the lobbyists. Obviously, the Administration had been shamed into providing the information. (For more on this story, see an earlier LA Times report.)

Peter Baker, Helene Cooper, and Adam Nagourney at the Caucus (the NY Times) live blogged Obama’s give and take with the media. Nagourney gave the final summary:

Mr. Obama’s audience tonight was not Republicans or Democrats who have resisted his health care plan, but rather the general public. For nearly an hour, often speaking in a monotone, Mr. Obama sought to make the case to the public that his health care plan was essential for the long-term economic health of the country.

The president offered long, and at times technical, responses as he sought to explain this highly complicated subject. He took questions from just 10 reporters, a low number even for him, reflecting how long his answers were (one clocked close to eight minutes). By the end, it was clear just how tough a subject this is to explain, even for a communicator of Mr. Obama’s abilities.

Mr. Obama appeared to drop his insistence that both houses complete a bill before the August recess, and signaled that he was open to the tax plan drafted by House Democrats that would place an income tax surcharge on families making over $1 million a year. He took shots at he described as opposition to his plan by Republicans that he described as motivated by partisan gamesmanship.

He grew most animated when he explained why it was he was insisting that Congress act now, saying the default position in Washington was to do nothing, and that the “stars were aligned” for action.

Mr. Obama spoke at a time when polls suggested that he was losing support for his health care plan, and Republicans have been emboldened as what they sense is his political weakness. The question now is whether Mr. Obama, with his sober and serious presentation today, has managed to reclaim the offensive in his battle to reform the health care system.

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