Well, now we've seen it: President Obama's very first prime-time press conference. He stood in a curious ring of woodland ferns and gave a stern lecture on the economy for about eight minutes, then took an assortment of questions and gave equally stern answers. He laughed exactly once -- at a mention of his poor hapless blabbermouthed toady, Joe Biden.
Any college professor will tell you that a major component of their profession is being able to answer fairly stupid questions in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Never do these qualities come in handy more than when you are holding your first prime-time press conference because the nation is staring into the hideous gaping maw of an agonizing financial crisis, and one of the questions you get is about some dumb baseball player and his dumb, predictable use of steroids.
Obama also got asked twice if he wasn't being terribly partisan by refusing to let Republicans write the stimulus bill. And the president, relying on his many years of teaching experience, answered these questions as if they were original and interesting.
Other highlights: Helen Thomas very obviously refused to fall for Obama's flattery, offering absolutely no response to his remark that "This is my inaugural moment here. I'm really excited." Instead, she just asked him a question about Afghanistan, which he ducked, and then he ignored her followup.
And then, possibly the strangest part of the press conference: Obama called on a common blogger, the Huffington Post's Sam Stein. Stein looked terrified, of course, but managed to read out a question about nutty old Senator Patrick Leahy's proposal for a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the Bush administration's alleged wrongdoings. Obama offered up his usual boilerplate about how nobody is above the law, but he wants to look forward. Thus history was made: a blogger asked the president a question, and he sort of half-answered it, as if this wee insect were an actual member of the press!
The lack of obvious antagonism between the president and reporters, the clear evidence that the president both knew and cared about the topics he was discussing, and the president's reasoned, minutes-long responses to questions do not bode well for the future. Will we all have to start writing about facts from now on instead of political theater? The next election can't come soon enough.