Barack Obama gave a press conference tonight; the key topic, of course, was the Democrats’ trillion-dollar pork bill. My guess is that the widely-televised event helped the Democrats’ cause some. Those who weren’t paying close attention probably thought Obama made a decent case.
Substantively, though, it was a weak effort. Obama repeatedly characterized his opponents (the Republicans) as people who want to do nothing about the current economic crisis:
As I said, the one concern I’ve got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what’s been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing.
This is not just disingenuous; frankly, it’s an outright lie. The question is whether it’s an effective one. Don’t most people who would bother to watch a televised press conference know that the Republicans have made all kinds of alternative proposals? One would think.
Obama’s attacks on the Bush administration were equally silly:
First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then, you know, I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now.
Right. And that’s why his first act as President is to double or triple the deficit? Why, then, doesn’t he say that the Bush administration was following the right policies, only needed to go farther? Likewise with his claim that the “failed” policy of the past was to rely only on tax cuts. Actually, the Bush administration also increased spending greatly, just as Obama now proposes. And since, as Obama told us a couple of days ago, all spending equals stimulus, isn’t he once again emulating the policies of his predecessor, only carrying them to a new level?
Have you noticed, too, that as Obama tries ever more desperately to sell his porkapalooza, his claims for it expand? Originally he said it would save or create 3 million jobs. Then for a while it was 3-4 million. Tonight Obama’s consistent claim was that the porkfest will create 4 million jobs.
When reporters asked him about issues other than the economy, Obama often responded in a weaselly style. For example, one reporter quoted Joe Biden–from 2004!–attacking the Bush administration for not allowing the return of caskets of dead soldiers to be turned into a media frenzy. Surely, given Biden’s criticism, and having had more than four years to think about it, The One intends to reverse that Bush-era policy? Not so fast!
Now, with respect to the policy of opening up media to loved ones being brought back home, we are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense, so I don’t want to give you an answer now before I’ve evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved.
Add that to the long list of issues that have suddenly gotten a lot more complicated now that the election is over.
The thoroughly insane Helen Thomas had her moment in the sun:
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan and — are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And, also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?
I think she meant Israel, but what her point was, I’m not sure. Obama didn’t take the bait on the “so-called terrorists,” but mildly told her that he was pretty sure there were some hanging out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It helped Obama, as usual, that he was among friends. This question near the end of the press conference, from Mara Liasson, was a stunner:
QUESTION: If it’s this hard to get more than a handful of Republican votes on what is relatively easy — spending tons of money and cutting people’s taxes — when you look down the road at health care, and entitlement reform, and energy reform, those are really tough choices.
That’s the pass we’ve arrived at, folks: spending a trillion dollars we don’t have is “relatively easy;” whatever possesses those Republicans not to go along?
On the whole, it was a slippery and dishonest performance but probably a reasonably effective one, as least for those in the audience who haven’t followed the stimulus debate with any care.
UPDATE: Jules Crittenden focuses on another revealing moment:
Obama’s presser became suddenly fascinating when he was caught like a deer in the headlights by an Iran question, and halting managed to spit out that while the people of Iran are great, its government has a long history of being “unhelpful.”
My initial reaction, of course, was revulsion. Let’s see. There’s the 241 unhelpfully dead Marines in Lebanon, and years of unhelpful instability and thuggishness there, with ongoing interference by Iranian-backed terrorists who have brought war and destruction down on the Lebanese people. There are several hundred unhelpfully dead American soldiers in Iraq and God knows how many unhelpfully dead Iraqis. There is the unhelpful nuclear program. There was the unhelful taking of an American embassy, and 444 unhelpful days of humiliation.
“My national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them. My expectation is that in the coming months we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table face to face.”
“There’s been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Did the president of the United States actually intend in his first press conference to kiss mullah ass?
To be fair to Obama, he actually puckered up more forcefully in his infamous Al Arabiya interview.
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