[Posted by Karl]
Pres. Obama’s fourth prime-time news conference (and fifth overall) was truly craptastic. I am no Obama fan, but when Larry Sabato, Howard Fineman and assorted mopes at MSNBC are unenthused, it’s safe to say it was craptastic.
NBC and ABC, Howard Kurtz, The Hill, and Ed Morrissey were among the many to note that Pres. Obama held a news conference without making news.
This left the president filibustering on every answer, and every answer followed the same general pattern. Pres. Obama tended to begin with a non-answer — boilerplate talking points about the healthcare issue. Even the Associated Press is fact-checking his pablum now. And public support for healthcare reform has been eroding while he has been making them these past weeks. Once some bit of boilerplate was spit out, the president would grope toward some sort of answer responsive to the question, but end up saying something unhelpful to his own cause, most notably his accusation that greedy doctors want to remove your tonsils.
I generally predicted this is how the presser would go, absent the tonsil comedy. But the presser played out even worse than I thought it would and had to ask myself why.
Yesterday, Rich Lowry suggested that the problem with Obama going into campaign mode was that his words would inevitably clash with the sausage getting made on Capitol Hill, ultimately eroding Obama’s credibility. I agreed with that — and still do. But the reality of Obama’s presser points toward a bigger problem for the president.
Pres. Obama’s real failure is embodied in the very first question of the presser:
Q Congress, as you alluded to, is trying to figure out how to pay for all of this reform. Have you told House and Senate leaders which of their ideas are acceptable to you? If so, are you willing to share that stand of yours with the American people? And if you haven’t given that kind of direction to congressional leaders, are you willing to — are you willing to explain why you’re not stepping in to get a deal done, since you’re the one setting a deadline?
Pres. Obama’s rambling non-answer to this question, which went on for minute after agonizing minute, speaks volumes. Political junkies know why Obama does not have an answer to this question. Obama never offered much in the way of a detailed healthcare proposal, because the White House decided that offering an actual draft bill was one of the things that sunk the Clintons’ attempt to take over our healthcare in 1993-94. It is also an approach reinforced by Obama’s career, in which he has been greatly rewarded for frequently voting “present.”
However, what the non-answer conveys to the casual viewer is a lack of leadership. It paints a portrait of a man banging the podium, telling Congress to act, while offering little to nothing himself. It is the picture of someone who talks about the “fierce urgency of now,” but only talks about it.
This is the real problem behind the criticism that Obama did not make any news last night. With healthcare reform hitting obstacles in Congress, the expectation was that Obama would say or do something to advance the ball down the field, but it did not happen. Pres. Obama was in campaign mode, but it was still the campaign of a candidate who wants the job — describing the problem, while avoiding the tough realities of a solution. Pres. Obama now has the job, and looks like he isn’t doing it.