Tuesday, February 10, 2009

President Obama’s first press conference: It was like taking candy from a baby.

From Jake Tapper of ABC News, President Obama was asked, “how can the American people gauge whether… your programs are working.” The President said simply, “…My initial measure of success is creating or saving four million jobs…. Step number two...”

Jobs, credit and housing—yup, that’s the message Obama wanted to communicate...
President Obama told Berkowitz on Berkowitz's Public Affairs TV show (July 24, 2003), by way of differentiating himself from his six Democratic Primary U. S. Senate opponents, “I know the issues, I have a vision and I speak out.” Watching him last night, we can say he still does those things very well. [Watch Berkowitz discuss another side of Obama with Bill O’Reilly here].
President Obama became the nominee of the Democratic Party not because of his domestic or economic policy expertise but because of his consistent, cogent and vigorous opposition to the War in Iraq. Remember, it was Obama’s early and sharp opposition to the War in the fall of 2002 that captivated the Democratic Party's liberal base, the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, as Howard Dean put it.

In November of 2002, Obama said on this journalist’s TV show, “Public Affairs,” that he would have voted against giving President Bush the authority to take military action in Iraq, had he been in congress in September, 2002. That is what led to the “judgment,” argument that Obama used so effectively to trump his primary opponents, in general, and Hillary Clinton, in particular. [Watch Obama interviewed and discussed by Berkowitz here].

Obama won the Presidential election due to the turmoil in the economy and his charming, disarming demeanor and calm manner.

But, in the general election, it was Obama’s handling of the fall, 2008, economic crisis that trumped John McCain. Oddly, if it had come down to the Iraq War, McCain might be President. Senator McCain had staked his reputation on the Surge, and the Surge worked. Obama, on the other hand, opposed the Surge, and he couldn’t get himself to concede the obvious, i.e., that the Surge had worked.

As the economy seemed in crisis and the Presidential Candidates approached their first debate last fall, it was McCain who seemed erratic as he first suspended his campaign, then called for the debate to be postponed and flew back to DC to question the President’s bailout—and then he supported the bailout. In short, McCain projected an unsteady, uncertain hand over the economy.

Obama, in contrast to McCain, was Cool Hand Luke. Presidential candidate Barack Obama projected someone who in this time of crisis supported Bush’s bailout, but more importantly projected calm and stability in moving toward a fix of the economy.

McCain could have used the opportunity to oppose the bailout and tie Obama to Bush. Instead, McCain tied himself to Bush. Throughout the campaign, McCain never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Advantage Obama: he looked, talked and sounded Presidential. On the all-important issue of the economy, Obama won, hands down. Combine that with the debates, with the campaign spending advantage, with a charming style, with soaring rhetoric, with energy and a much more youthful appearance, and Senator Obama won the election, going away.

What Obama wanted to accomplish in last night’s Prime Time Presser

Going into last night’s first Obama Presidential press conference [Obama had a number of pressers previously in Chicago as the President-Elect], Obama had already gotten the House and Senate to approve his 800 billion dollar stimulus plan. Yes, the vote wouldn’t be until today, but the Democratic Senate leadership had the commitment from the three Republican Senators (Collins, Snowe and Specter) that Obama needed to insure his Economic Stimulus Plan is filibuster proof.

Obama’s Big Mo

What Obama needed last night to keep his momentum on the Stimulus Plan moving forward was style, charisma and substance over the Washington Press corps to wow the country. Again, Obama got what he needed.

Obama’s press conference themes

In an hour of prime time carried by all the broadcast and cablecast outlets, Obama used the questions to argue effectively his point of view: now is the time for action, not the paralysis of analysis. Virtually all economists are in consensus that the country needs a big spending program argued the President [that is not true, but nobody in the DC press corps was inclined to argue or capable of arguing with the President]. The President’s stimulus is the right size, scope and substance. Again, this is questionable, but the press corps was not competent to challenge the President. Advantage, President Obama.

A Baker’s Dozen of questions at the Presser

In an hour press conference, Obama fielded a baker’s dozen of questions, with only six dealing with the economy. Averaging about four minutes per question, Obama’s answers were long for a presser and somewhat professorial, as one might expect from a former University of Chicago constitutional law Senior Lecturer. Yet, the answers were conversational enough to communicate in plainspoken, yet thoughtful, language, to the American public. In a sense, President Obama went over the heads of the media to the citizens of the country. The man knows how to use the bully pulpit. We will be seeing lot of that in the next four, or more likely, eight years.

Six questions on the economy: it was like taking candy from babies

From Jennifer Loven of AP, Obama was asked whether his characterization of irreversible damage that might occur to the economy as a result of “inaction,” might itself be harmful to the economy by way of “talking it down.”

Obama lectured the country that no—he was just trying to avoid a negative spiral for the country’s economy—as occurred he contended in Japan in the 1990s due to a lack of a spending stimulus program. [Obama is wrong about the causes of the Japan experience but nobody in attendance was ready to challenge him].

From Chuck Todd of NBC and MSNBC, Obama was asked if his stimulus program sought to revive consumer spending and isn’t consumer spending “how we got into this mess.” Obama said no—we got into this mess by banks taking exorbitant, wild risks. Obama is partly right there, but he neglected to point out that much of that bank behavior was explained by the improper encouragement by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government entities, who in turn were encouraged by the likes of Cong. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT). Again, nobody in the DC press corps thought it wise to challenge the President on that.

From Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg (who Obama loves to call on), we learned that “experts like… Senator Schumer,” have said that it will cost the government “more than a trillion dollars to really fix the financial system.” So, Goldman asked, “Won’t the government need far more than the $350 billion dollars remaining in the financial rescue funds to really solve the credit crisis?

Obama dodged most of the question as to whether his program was of sufficient size to deal with the financial sector. He simply argued that his team would do a better job than Team Bush of oversight, etc. in spending the second half of the 700 Billion dollars in TARP funds and that he didn’t want to preempt his Treasury secretary who would lay out today how he will deal with “the housing issue.”

From Jake Tapper of ABC News, Obama was asked, “how can the American people gauge whether… your programs are working.” The President said simply, “…My initial measure of success is creating or saving 4 million jobs…. Step number two, are we seeing the credit markets operate effectively…Step number three…have we stabilized the housing market.”

Jobs, credit and housing—yep, that’s the message Obama wanted to communicate. Jake meet Jack, Jack meet Jake, thank you Jake.

From Helene Cooper, would Obama impose a requirement that financial institutions use their government money to loosen up credit? From President Obama—he doesn’t want to preempt his Treasury Secretary’s presser of Tuesday, but Obama’s bottom line, is credit flowing to businesses and individuals? Does that translate into jobs and economic growth? Yup, that’s the simple message Obama sought to convey to the country.

From Major Garrett of Fox, a peculiar question about a peculiar recent statement of VP Biden, “If we do everything right… there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Garrett asked President Obama if Biden was referring to the President’s Stimulus Plan or the Bank Rescue bill.

The President smartly didn’t take Garrett’s bait and said more generally that there is a consensus among economists that there should be a range of approaches that deal with the financial system, housing, stimulus, etc. In other words, the President took a vague question and used it for his general purposes of saying we have to mix things together cautiously. President Obama is a pragmatic, but cautious man [Watch Berkowitz discuss President-Elect Obama with Hannity and Colmes].

Obama: Making Reagan’s Deaver proud

In short, the last question epitomized the presser. The questions weren’t too sharp. They came from reporters who had been pre-selected for questions. The President knew what he wanted to communicate to the public and he skillfully used the questions to do just that. His techniques would have made President Reagan’s Michael Deaver proud.

The White House press corps are foils for the President, not unlike what they are for press secretary Robert Gibbs and his daily briefings. Although, the press corps ask follow-ups of Gibbs and things can get a bit testy there. For a White House prime time press conference, everybody plays nice.

President Obama: Looking for a good dentist?

President Obama told Berkowitz on Berkowitz's Public Affairs TV show (July 24, 2003), by way of differentiating himself from his six Democratic Primary U. S. Senate opponents, “I know the issues, I have a vision and I speak out.”
Watching Obama last night, we can say he still does those things very well.

[Watch Berkowitz discuss another side of Obama with Bill O’Reilly here].

At last night’s presser, President Obama handled the questions with the ease of someone taking candy from a baby. This journalist imagines President Obama will need a good dentist if he does too many pressers, especially if the White House press corps doesn't sharpen up its questions.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at JBCG@aol.com. *************************************************************
"Public Affairs," is a weekly political interview show airing in Chicago on CANTV, in the Chicago metro area, Aurora and Rockford on Comcast and also often on the Illinois Channel. You can watch the shows, including archived shows going back to 2005, here.
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page include shows with 5th Cong. Dist. Democratic Primary Candidate Charles Wheelan, State Senator Kwame Raoul on impeachment(D-Chicago), Democratic political campaign consultant Pete Giangreco on Blago's impeachment and the way in which the Obama Administration will operate, a recent Bill O'Reilly segment w/Berkowitz on Obama, shows with State Rep. Julie Hamos, (D-Evanston) and many more.