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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Inauguration Day Madman

February 10, 2009


President Obama's First Press Conference

President Barack Obama offered up his first press conference to the main stream media last night, and its tone and content couldn't have been more different from his predecessor's. The first thing you noticed was the presence of real main stream media journalists along with The President's preference to call on them (rather than those who might have been planted and placed among the real press floating softballs up to the podium). There were no Jeff Gannon/ James Guckert types to do ask the questions The President might want asked.

And everyone kept their clothes on.

With the big story of Alex Rodriguez' steroid use being plastered all over the front pages of America's newspapers, it could have been easy for any normal press conference to have taken a back seat. After all, sensationalism sells. It's sexy.

But the truth of the matter is that, today, our nation's future is even more sensational and sexy than anything any one ballplayer could ever be. Whereas the A-Rod apology is certainly newsworthy, even President Obama's mention of it at the news conference (in response to a targeted question by Michael Fletcher of The Washington Post) seemed distracting and even annoying.

The press conference offered up something we haven't seen in Washington, DC for quite some time now: a President who actually thought about the question asked and his own, thoughtful answers. And although he was obviously in charge during the whole hour, he didn't duck the questioners nor did he chuckle his way through the night.

No, there weren't any smirks, "heh,heh,heh's" or mispronounced words last night. It was a nice change.

The questions came from all outlets and all sides of the room last night with President Obama even taking a question from Sam Stein of the Left-leaning online political site huffingtonpost.com and the Right's Major Garrett of Fox News. Both offered up questions one would expect from their respective sides, with Stein asking about the possible prosecution of former President Bush; and Garrett prodding President Obama about just what chances Vice President Joe Biden was talking about when he handicapped some proposal the two leaders had talked about.

Garrett's question was the first chuckle offered up by President Obama during an evening when laughter was in short supply. Our nation's future is, once again, serious business.

The most telling question of the evening was the one offered up by NPR's Mara Liasson. I like to think that there are no topics off-limits in Note From a Madman but, in the end, it is politics that intrigues me the most. Ms. Liasson's question rang that bell.

"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. You're going to be asking some people to get less and some people to pay more.
"What do you think you're going to have to do to get more bipartisanship? Are you going to need a new legislative model, bringing in Republicans from the very beginning, getting more involved in the details yourself from the beginning, or using bipartisan commissions? What has this experience with the stimulus led you to think about when you think about these future challenges?"

It appeared that Ms. Liasson was asking what President Obama was going to try to get around the GOP minority. As it stands now, the Republican Minority has enough votes to tie up anything and everything President Obama can't do with an executive order. Left to their own devices, it appears that many on the Right will do just that (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; House Minority Leader John Boehner; Senator David Vitter; etc).

President Obama's answer included an interesting thought, in hindsight:

"Now, just in terms of the historic record here, the Republicans were brought in early and were consulted. And you'll remember that when we initially introduced our framework, they were pleasantly surprised and complimentary about the tax cuts that were presented in that framework. Those tax cuts are still in there. I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some, and then let them take credit for all of them. And maybe that's the lesson I learned,"
-President Obama

Maybe he has learned his lesson, but it would be better for the GOP leadership to learn a lesson themselves: It isn't about them - it's about getting things done. They were a huge part of the problem and, along with President Bush, have put us in the mess we are today.

It should be embarrassing to the GOP that not one of their ranks in the House voted with the Democratic majority to forge the new economic plan. It would have been good to see one of the leaders of the House GOP to stand up and say, "Even though it isn't exactly what we wanted, it's best to get this plan done."

That didn't happen.

Likewise, it was nearly as embarrassing to see only three Republican Senators join with the majority to hammer out the upper house's plan, which was completed with Democratic Majority concessions.

In the end, President Obama took those to task who deserved to be taken to task. In the end, Obama pointed to the direction he wants to take us in (and the direction the people of the United States want to go). And in the end, it will be about the seriousness of governing the United States.

And that's something which has been missing for quite some time now.

-Noah Greenberg

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-Noah Greenberg