In his first nationally televised press conference as the nation’s president, Barack Obama spoke in full sentences that were extended to well-structured paragraphs that combined to make for mini-essays on the subjects he was asked to address. Some of his answers lasted for as long as seven minutes; none were off the point of the question. And he did not appear in the least to be unprepared about anything he was asked.
Thus, without even considering the substance of his answers, the American people, if they were paying attention, learned much about the man they elected as their new president. They learned that he is articulate and comfortable in this part of his job, but, more importantly, they learned how he intends to govern.
I identified four aspects of his approach to his job from the press conference. In ascending order of importance, here’s what we learned.
1. This president does his homework, and he is a straight A student. In his detailed answers to the questions he was asked, Obama displayed the kind of substantive expertise the country hasn’t seen in a president since Bill Clinton. That the Clinton presidency ended only eight years ago might be an indication of how little interest in or grasp of substance his successor (Mr. Obama’s predecessor) had on most topics that came across his desk.
Irrespective of whether his analyses of the issues are accurate or reflect a political philosophy the country is best served by, this new president is not going to fail by reason of limited information. Obama takes seriously the part of his job that requires the hard things, like reading, attending briefings, studying the issues. He may make mistakes, but they won’t be for want of knowledge.
2. He really does want to change the way Washington works. In this regard, he has taken a page from his opponent’s playbook. Just as John McCain preached the need for bipartisanship in his campaign (and has occasionally sought to practice it in his 30 years in elective office), so does the new president intend to seek bipartisanship in his dealings with Congress and the country.
He may not have achieved much support from his political opponents on his first major legislative effort (the pending stimulus bill), but he has “reached across the aisle” in trying to gain that support, and he appears to have in mind to continue that kind of approach. Thus, in his press conference, he pointed out that in addition to his visits to the Republican Congressional caucuses and his invitations to Republicans to attend social functions at the White House, he also invited Republican suggestions for the stimulus bill and adopted more than a few of them, the continuing negative response from the GOP notwithstanding.
Collegiality is the word we use in legal circles. Simply translated, it means according respect to the person even if you disagree with his or her specific thoughts on a given subject. And, just as significantly, it reflects an openness to opposing views, not just for show, but for the benefit that those opposing views may actually offer an improved solution to the problem at hand. It’s the opposite of arrogance, which will mark another distinct difference in approach from the country’s experience of the last eight years.
3. The new president is a pragmatist in the most positive sense of the word. Put another way, he’s a “do what works” kind of guy. This approach is evident in his aggressive efforts to tackle the economic crisis he has inherited as he begins his term. He began looking for solutions during the campaign, when the meltdown had only just begun, by assembling a team of the best and brightest economists he could find. Included in the group were Republicans and Democrats and non-partisans, and many of that same group are advising him now.
This is not a man who will lock himself onto a position or policy and stick to it irrespective of the results that are being produced by it. He believes the current stimulus plan will work, but by providing his own definition of benchmarks for its success (a turnaround in the employment statistics, a return of normal bank lending practices, and a rebound in the housing market), he is identifying how he (and the nation) can judge the success of the plan he is seeking to put in place. If it doesn’t work, this president will not be likely to “stay the course.” Rather, he will make whatever adjustments he can to achieve his goals for the country.
4. Notwithstanding his essential pragmatism or his desire for bipartisanship, President Obama is possessed of a set of core beliefs that define his political and governing philosophy. He is, in the most classic sense, a liberal, meaning he recognizes the role that government must play in securing the guarantees of the Constitution and in providing the basis by which the citizens of his country can live in safety and prosperity.
Liberalism has been a dirty word in American politics ever since Jimmy Carter bungled in paying lip service to it and Ronald Reagan then declared it un-American. In truth, the greatest periods in America’s history have been marked by liberal leadership.
Jefferson’s decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory was a rejection of conservatism and an acceptance of liberalism. Lincoln’s abolition of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation was the act of a liberal. Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting was a liberal’s attempt to restrict the results of unfettered capitalism. FDR’s New Deal, still despised by radical conservatives, saved the nation during the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society made health care available to millions of Americans and brought poverty into focus as a legitimate target of governmental action.
Barack Obama is cut of the same cloth. And coupled with his intellectual grasp of the issues that come before him, his commitment to find bipartisan solutions to the problems that confront the nation, and his pragmatic approach to governing, he is likely to restore liberalism to its rightful place as a valued political philosophy in twenty-first century America.
I love having a president who doesn’t embarrass me everywhere he goes.
Viking Daughter says
That was a well thought out article.
Unfortunately I haven’t kept up on news the past couple of weeks in the U.S.—my focus has been on the Israeli elections.
The one point you mentioned which distubed me was the lack of support he received on the stimulus package. I find it difficult to believe that those who created this disasterous economical situation would dare to question Obama’s solutions. When something has not worked it’s time to examine viable alternatives.
I watched Rep. Paul Kanjowski’s C-Span speech on an almost complete collapse of our economy in September of ’08 and it’s downright terrifying. I think we are seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of economic collapse, and we are hardly out of the woods!
Pres Obama has the gift of being the most articulate, eloquent speaking president I’ve seen in my lifetime. He has a conviction that only adds to his eloquence. Perhaps ”trusting” him until he proves otherwise should be the attitude.
My eye is on Israel today, as who wins will determine some major negotiations that must be considered in the Middle Eastern political world. I view Pres. Obama as capable of ”repairing” our standing in our international community. Let’s hope it happens.
Rather ironic point you made on Lincoln’s abolition of slavery. I’m quite sure that concept was not popular amongst the masses. The man was a visionary …and visionaries are often criticized.
Viking Daughter says
Donya: You’re 10 words spoke volumes!!
Excellent post! I was astounded at hearing a president actually answer the questions during a press conference. His “town hall” meeting was equally astonishing because he allowed just about anyone to participate. Someone even attempted to challenge him regarding his cabinet nominees having tax problems – and they weren’t hussled away by security! He just answered the question. Amazing! My, how our expectations have fallen over the last 8 years.
Perry the Problematic says
Clearly the Republican opposition to the stimulus package has less to do with the package itself and more to do with the wound-licking after the November ass-kicking they took. “Who is going to be the first Republican to break ranks?” they ask, looking around for the first traitor.
It’s disappointing to see so many cabinet members fall by the wayside, but isn’t it nice to see the nominees holding themselves to Obama’s high standards… and leaving? Daschle could have clearly weathered the storm (although a friend says there was something else in his history that would have come up). Richardson… Daschle…. they’re all acting like children who have disappointed their father. Personally, I think it’s great.
After Daschle, it now appears we have an opening for Health and Human Services Director. My vote is for Telfeyan !!!
Picking “bipartisanship” as a value unto itself is like designing a machine whose only specification is that it run silently. By itself it is meaningless.
Check this out [excerpted and edited by me below]:
Published on Friday, February 13, 2009 by Salon.com
Obama and Liberals: A Counter-Productive Relationship
by Glenn Greenwald
[Republican groups demand from politicians support for their beliefs. By contrast, Democrats lend their allegiance to the party and its leader regardless of how faithful the party leadership is to their beliefs. That disparity means that there is often great popular agitation and political pressure exerted from the Right, but almost none from the Left….
[Obama, on some issues, might move to the Right because he wants to. In other cases, he will do so because he perceives that he has to, because the combination of the GOP/Blue-Dog-following-caucus/Beltway-media-mob might force him to. Regardless of Obama’s motives, the lack of a meaningful, potent movement on the Left to oppose that behavior ensures that it will continue without any resistance. The lack of any independent political pressure from the Left ensures that Obama will be either content to ignore their views or will be forced to do so even when he doesn’t want to.
[Part of the political shrewdness of Obama has been that he’s been able to actually convince huge numbers of liberals that it’s a good thing when he ignores and even stomps on their political ideals, that it’s something they should celebrate and even be grateful for. Hordes of Obama-loving liberals are still marching around paying homage to the empty mantras of “pragmatism” and “post-partisan harmony” — the terms used to justify and even glorify Obama’s repudiation of their own political values….]
I don’t know if wound licking is accurate, I think of it as the last stand of the GOP, They’re desperate and it shows. what they mostly seem to lack is patriotism, I believe that the words Rush used “I hope he fails” is treason or at least it’s birthplace .
Obama failing does seem to be the party perspective, they know they screwed up, but don’t believe it was the philosophy of the party that was wrong, or it is the philosophy of greed that is wrong, But at this point what is their philosophy? One minute it is this, the next something different. It seems to be the last perceived Demon that they created, or just made up, and the need to control it and later distance themselves from it. Ex: Light a fire, run through the town claiming an arsonist is at large, blame the Fire department and then run for Fire Chief in order to clean up the department. “No one else is doing anything about it so I will”. As quoted from our new Fire Chief upon winning the election. (Anthrax anyone?)
I think the most obvious fear the GOP has demonstrated was the stand on Education in the stimulus package, it was one of the first things to go. They fear an educated population more than anything else. They can’t control a people who use logic, have an understanding of inflation, and a memory filled with factual knowledge of recent history.
I hope the American people see the smoke screen and act appropriately.
Jerry Todd says
The devil is in the details. During the campaign, Obama hinted at a “volunteer” force “bigger than the military” to bring peace and order.” With a few billion going to the corrupt ACORN, the next task will be to select their shirt colors – Brown maybe, but I’d bet on blue? Somebody has to keep those chuirches and talk show hosts under control. nothing like a “stille nacht” to accomplish same.
Chuckie Shumer’s “Chatting Class” – i.e., folks who listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Ingraham, O’Reilly, et, al are by and large the best educated and most participatory small business people in the nation. These are as dangerous to a totalitarian US government as the educated class were to Pol Pot in Cambodia.
The poor lost souls who want a “fairness doctrine” apparently never had a “meal from the marketplace” – but see government as the end all and be all. Conservative (not Republican) talk radio is a weak counterbalance to the major networks who are unashamedly in the totalitarian pot. The marketplace sets the demand. Find a need and fill it. That’s where the advertising dollars go. We’re not against free enterprise, are we here in “the Marketplace?” Nobody wants a totalitarian regime save for those victimized by outcome-based education out of whose ranks came their first President. I prayy for his health and for recovering his soul. He’s either part of what Scripture calls evil forces and wickedness in high places or the biggest victim of same.
It doesn’t bother anybody that union goons will soon be spread out all over every business and construction site whether the employees want them or not. Or how about GE, who 20 years ago got a $235 mil tax rebate for closing their Fontana, CA small appliance plantand moved it to Taiwn. Noe Imhoff controls NBC, fails the comany andis a key member of Obama’s economic advisory group.
Could you imagine Carl Rove running the census? George Bush, like his father is a new world order pusher, so he set the tone for Obama’s very scary agenda – eloquent speaker or not. I think some NYT reporter is publicly fanascizing over pushing michelle out of bed and entertaining the Prez. Maybe there’s a market for dildos with large ears. (I digress.)
Last night the Chinese finance minister said three times regarding the Democrat economic/totalitarian fiasco – “We hate you! We hate you! We hate you! You demand trillions of dollars aand we can’t do a thing about it.” Cina is in depp shit also.”So much for restoring America’s standing in the world.
Happy Condoms Day folks! Or is it the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?
JT has a point. I bet we’ll soon see federal troops marching into our neighborhoods to abort our unborn, force us to marry people of our same sex, force-feed us arugala, make us adopt baby whales and drive hybrids! Seems like a good time for a rapture!