Commander-in-Chief (of the Airwaves) | NBC New York

Commander-in-Chief (of the Airwaves)

Obama glides -- and jabs -- through his first press conference



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    A focused and intense President Obama makes his case on the stimulus package at his first presidential news conference.

    OK, despite what was said in this space a few days ago, President Obama sure didn't have to worry about wearing out his welcome with his first press conference Monday. 

    If nothing else -- despite his slaps against conservative governance of the last eight years -- Obama must have had many Republicans shaking their heads mournfully saying "Wow. There's a guy who knows how to command a press conference and use it to drive his policy agenda."

    The GOP hasn't had anyone since Reagan who could use his press conference as both a sales platform and to toss out a dollop of partisan swats at the same time. (Obama though might want to watch the latter a bit. There seemed a little-little-bit-more-than-necessary "campaign-like" rhetoric going after the Republicans for running up the debt in the previous eight years. It's an accurate statement, but hardly one that would continue to develop the bipartisan atmosphere that Obama cites as one of his major goals.) 

    Still, from the moment he came to the podium and opened with his prepared remarks, the staffing woes and bad press of last week became a distant memory. Obama stood as commander of his agenda (rather than the man forced into a defensive crouch in the last couple weeks by the Democratic Congress' larding up of the bill). He zipped out statistics on job loss in Elkhart, Indiana -- and travails in Miami; made a specific comparison of what the loss of near-600,000 jobs last month meant: "nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine."

    His delivery was crisp and confident. The only aspect of the press conference that betrayed Obama's rookie status was his reliance on a "cheat-sheet" list for the reporters he wished to call on. Of course, after a few of these, he'll know who everybody is, including the newbies of which there were quite a few. (That The Huffington Post's reporter, Sam Stein was called upon is not merely a breakthrough for the liberal press, but also a first for the non-traditional media as well.)

    When asked about whether the lack of Republican votes on his stimulus demonstrated that his vaunted attempts at bipartisanship were a failure, he deftly demurred, saying that he wasn't reaching out to the GOP solely for short-term votes, but as a longer-term approach which he hopes will bear fruit down the road. 

    The most notable aspect of this news conference was that it wasn't something we've seen for nearly a decade.  George W. Bush never liked press conferences. He did them when he had to, but rarely showed much pleasure in the process.  Bill Clinton initially enjoyed press conferences, but by the end of his second term -- after dealing with multiple scandals culminating in impeachment, the relationship between the Clinton White House and the press was fairly toxic. So, here is a new president, still feeling his oats, confident that his charisma and command of the facts -- as he perceives them -- is enough to keep the public rallied to his side on the stimulus. 

    Of course, the questions will inevitably arise, exactly how does one guage the success in "creating or saving 4 million jobs"?  How can you know if a job has been saved? What's the benchmark there?  If the country loses "only" 400,000 jobs in February, instead of the 598,000 lost this month, is that considered a "saving" of 198,00?  That's not a question that is easily answered.

    One more thing Obama might want to be careful of -- something that was never a problem for Reagan---is to leaven the heavy talk with a healthy dose of smiles and humor. Obama's demeanor through most of the press conference was serious, perhaps even bordering on dour. 

    Ironically, one moment that did elicit both a smile from Obama (and several chuckles from the press corps) was Major Garrett's question about what Joe Biden meant when he said that they would get "30 percent of things wrong."  Obama "I don't remember exactly what Joe was referring to -- not surprisingly -- but let me try this out...I wouldn't ascribe any numerical percentages." But, does President Obama need Joe Biden to help bring out his lighter side? He'd do much better -- though undoubtedly driving Republicans and conservatives nuts in the process -- if just showed more of it naturally.