Obama holds first press conference

The prime time event, intended to bolster public support for the stimulus, offered lots of long answers and few surprises.

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 10, 2009 2:45AM (EST)

The White House scheduled Monday night's press conference, Barack Obama's first as president, to give him an opportunity to sell his stimulus package to the country. And -- in contrast to his predecessor -- Obama didn't disappoint. He projected an air of competence and calm, made no serious mistakes, seemed to truly know his material.

But good God, it was boring.

In part, that's because Obama is so competent at these sorts of things. There's none of that breathless anticipation you could get as George W. Bush answered questions from reporters, the sense that you were watching a tightrope walker with a nasty case of vertigo working without a net.

But it was also a consequence of the format the new administration designed for the occasion. Obama's answers weren't, really -- they were mini-speeches. Normally, at least, given the president's talent for oratory, that would liven things up a bit, but this was Obama back in presidential mode, as opposed to the campaign style he adopted very successfully for his town hall meeting earlier in the day.

Still, you have to hand it to the various political minds in the Obama team. By making this a press conference, rather than a speech, and scheduling it when they did, they managed to get an hour of prime time coverage in which the president could deliver his message practically uninterrupted, with the reporters and their questions serving as launching pads for each vignette.

And even more to the White House's credit, that message was clear, and stronger than it has been over the past few couple weeks. Obama took the fight back to the Republicans, while still speaking convincingly about his efforts to win GOP members of Congress over to his side.

"[M]y bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is: Send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs. Because everybody has to be possessed with a sense of urgency about putting people back to work, making sure that folks are staying in their homes, that they can send their kids to college," Obama said in response to a reporter's question about bipartisanship, continuing:

That doesn't negate the continuing efforts that I'm going to make to listen and engage with my Republican colleagues... 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.

Now, if that's their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we're probably not going to make much progress, because I don't think that's economically sound and I don't think what -- that's what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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