Obama’s Enchanting Prime-time Presser

By
Photo: Getty Images

Last night, President Obama held his third prime-time press conference to mark his supposedly arbitrary, media-concocted 100th-day milestone. As we speculated he might, Obama totally snubbed Fox News correspondent Major Garrett in retaliation for Fox's decision to air an episode of Lie to Me instead of covering the event. But plenty of other people were allowed to ask questions, and some of Obama's answers were interesting! Plus: Was Jeff Zeleny's four-part question a stroke of genius or an embarrassment?

Obama on Torture
Obama said he believed waterboarding was torture, and that we can get the same information without sacrificing America's values. But he repeatedly evaded a question on whether Bush officials should be prosecuted for it.

• Andrew Sullivan is relieved "[t]o finally see a president who truly grasps the vital nature of retaining the rule of law, core Western values and, at the same time, the need to fight Jihadist terror with all the legal, humane weapons we have." [Atlantic]

• John Nichols believes Obama was "right to reject torture" but he still "remained unsettlingly vague and disingenuous on the question of holding the proponents of torture to account." [State of Change/Nation]

• Adam Serwer agrees that Obama's answers were "good," but he "didn't answer the 'central question'" about holding people accountable for breaking the law. [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks the answer was "dead on." [Atlantic]

• Eugene Robinson is still left wondering what comes next. [Post Partisan/WP]

Obama on Closing the Border
Obama said he didn't think closing the border with Mexico over swine flu made sense at this point because "it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States."

• Alex Koppelman agrees that "it's far too simplistic to suppose that just closing off one border can make much difference." The truth is that "because of improvements in technology and the increase in global travel and trade ... there's not much that can be done to stop" a virus from spreading globally. [War Room/Salon]

• Hugh Hewitt contends that "it is simply not true that the United States would be just as exposed to the pandemic with an open versus a closed or partially closed border," and that Obama is inviting us to be treated by the world as it treats Mexico. [Town Hall]

Obama's Full Plate
Obama asserted, with a smile, that he'd prefer not to have to run any auto companies or banks because he already has more than enough to contend with.

• Michael Scherer says "[i]t was not so much a complaint as an acknowledgment of the historical confluence of crises that have greeted Obama's first months in the White House." The point wasn't "to plea [sic] for pity or sympathy" but to ask America for patience. [Swampland/Time]

• Kenneth R. Bazinet and Michael Mcauliff write that Obama's answer "betrayed a sense of exasperation at the swarm of crises that have besieged him and the country." [NYDN]

• Steve Benen disagrees, saying it "wasn't 'woe is me'; this was 'why on earth would anyone think I'd want to take over non-governmental enterprises right now?'" [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• John Dickerson claims the point was to "blunt Republican attacks, of course, particularly on the issue of the budget deficit, which will grow as a result of all of this activity. But it's also to make everything he's doing to expand government — including the reorientation of priorities in his budget — seem like a necessary reaction to an emergency situation." [Slate]

• Chris Cillizza says Obama is "very conscious of the Republican messaging that he is nothing but a traditional liberal" and wanted to let voters know that "the increase in government spending is to deal with an historic economic crisis and we will work to curb it as soon as we can." [Fix/WP]

Obama's Performance

• John Podhoretz thinks Obama was "unquestionably brilliant" in the impression he gave to viewers, which is how he gets them to "swallow his snake oil." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Tom Shales says Obama was "comfortingly cool and collected" and answers his questions "earnestly, disarmingly, enchantingly ... and most of the time convincingly, which is no small accomplishment for a politician." He can also easily transition between "five-dollar words" and "folksy" language. [WP]

• Mike Madden writes that "the loose, easy style" on display last night is part of Obama's success. He was able to drop "names, locations and facts into his answers in a way that showed he knew what he was talking about, and he managed to stop talking before most of his answers tipped into wonkiness." On swine flu, he "managed to convey concern without straying into panic over the pandemic." [Salon]

• Ruth Marcus saw a press conference "in which a president renowned for his soaring rhetoric found himself instead mired in the prosaic," asking people to wash their hands and talking about car quality. [Post Partisan/WP]

• Matt Lewis notices that Obama ends his answers with "mkay" like South Park's Mr. Mackey. [Town Hall]

Jeff Zeleny's Question
The Times journalist asked Obama to name when he was the most "surprised, troubled, enchanted, and humbled" during his first 100 days, to laughter from the press corps.

• George Stephanopolous claims it was "the best question of the night" and that Obama "decided to play along in a mini-masterpiece of improvisational message-making." [George's Bottom Line/ABC News]

• Michel Goldfarb believes Zeleny "embarrassed himself and his paper when he asked Obama what was the most 'enchanted' moment of his first 100 days. I was unable to see whether the question was read out of a My Little Unicorn notepad." [Blog/Weekly Standard]

• Marc Ambinder says Zeleny knows Obama better than even Rahm Emanuel, and their closeness is why "[h]e can get away with stuff like this ... you could see it in the way Obama smiled at him." [Atlantic]

• Kathryn Jean Lopez calls it a "wasted question." [Corner/National Review]