Two prime-time press conferences down. No major errors. But, critics of the current administration on the right need to get over one thing:
The president of the United States uses a teleprompter for his many various major speeches!
What a major scandal. Well, at least it seems to be for my friends on the right who feel the need to pepper every other column, blog post, letter, comment thread, etc. with a reference to this fact. To underscore this point, Obama's Teleprompter has its "own" blog AND Facebook page!
Forget it, folks!
This line of attack ain't going anywhere -- for a very simple reason: He may use a teleprompter a whole heckuva lot, but he also makes a lot of public appearances where there notably are no teleprompters -- and he's explaining his positions pretty thoroughly.
Again, this is Obama's second full prime-time press conference in as many months; he's also gone on Jay Leno and "60 Minutes" in the last week. He had two town hall meetings out in California. Considering that he is the first YouTube president, it's not as if his other appearances aren't going to be recorded in some format. Obama's hardly afraid that he's going to screw up without his teleprompter. .
You might not agree with his policies -- and I have major problems with Obama's spending plans -- but it's hardly the case that he doesn't know what he's talking about. Rather than the usual teleprompters at the left and right of his podium, on Tuesday, he read his opening statement off of a large screen in the back of the East Room.
But, after Tuesday, it's fair to ask, are the teleprompters in place to protect Obama "from himself" (i.e., possibly making a big embarrassing error) or are they to protect *us* from *him* (i.e., he could possibly do a Castro/Rush-esque speech that might not have a natural stopping point until an hour or two into it). If the latter, then sign me up for the teleprompter President. He knows the details of his programs and isn't too afraid to go into the minutiae of them. In fact, he probably knows them as well as any of the reporters in the room.
1) He made sure that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner gave the details of his bank bailout plan the day before the press conference (last month, he promoted Geithner's initial announcement big; it flopped and the market tanked 380 points). This time, the market rallied robustly on Monday in response to the Geithner plan -- and completely took the air out of what should have been the most important topic. There wasn't one question about the details of the troubled assets issue -- even as that as never been far from the surface of economic stories for the last month or two.
2) Obama was better prepared for the press conference than were the reporters. Why did NBC's Chuck Todd ask about what sort of "sacrifice" the American people were being asked for? Even Obama seemed thrown off by it. Between the trillions in deficit spending the government is throwing at the recession and the credit crisis -- not to mention personal saving and cost-cutting -- American workers and taxpayers are sacrificing short-term and long-term.
Similarly, why did Ann Compton ask about race? Obama was rightly annoyed at the question. It's like: OK, we get it: The president's black, but, no he doesn't worry about how race every minute of the day. Yes, Ann, it's alright. It's still called the White House. Thanks for asking.
While ABC's Jake Tapper asked about whether Obama would fight to keep his middle-class tax cut from a Congress looking to drop it (pretty clearly, that the answer to that is "no"), there was no specific challenge to the central conceit of the president's agenda. "That's why this budget is inseparable from this recovery: because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity." The president is making the assertion that the only way to long-lasting recovery is for profound overhaul of the education, energy and health-care sectors.
Indeed, the only real difference between the George W. Bush's last submitted budget -- $3.1 trillion --and Obama's $3.6 trillion is the $643 billion "down-payment" on his health-care plan. He has yet to make the case that this is essential spending to deal with the current crisis.
Until that case is fully made, there will always be something lacking in President Obama's ability to close his sale.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.