Early on in his press conference, President Obama proved that he could take a bad question and turn it into a good answer. A question from the AP's Jennifer Loven asking why the American people should grant the administration new powers to regulate was flipped into an explanation of why the lack of regulatory authority had contributed to the government's inability to properly manage the AIG debacle. Next, NBC's Chuck Todd asked why Obama wasn't asking the American people to sacrifice more in the "war" on the economy. Obama looked mildly surprised,
"Folks are sacrificing left and right," he said. "Parents are cutting back on everything for their kids."
On the budget, on the necessity for regulation, on the requirement to make significant investments in economic growth for the long term, and the exigencies of confronting the current economic crisis in the short term, Obama seemed more sure of himself than some of his questioners. The reporters stumbled over their questions, but Obama was brisk and businesslike in his answers. If his goal was to project that a competent person was in charge of the government he probably succeeded.
But if his goal was to prove that he was, in his own words, "as angry as anybody" about the abuses committed by Wall Street's "reckless speculation," then he was a little less successful. He didn't project anger, and didn't make much of an attempt to ratify the public's anger. Indeed, he was careful to say that "we can't afford to demonize every entrepreneur and investor who seeks to make a profit." That's not exactly the message that the general public was sending to Washington last week.
CNN's Ed Henry pressed directly on that point: You've been talking about how angry you are, but Andrew Cuomo seems to be more successful in getting bonus money back from AIG than either you or Secretary Geithner? Why did it take you a couple of days to express your outrage?
Which earned Henry a bit of a smackdown.
"I took a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." The implication being that a lot of other politicians are mouthing off without such knowledge, proof of which can be obtained on a daily basis on Capitol Hill.
Fair enough. In a time of crisis, taking deep breaths before venting is probably a good thing. But Americans, right now, want to vent. They are looking for someone who will channel their anger and rage.
I don't think they're going to find it in this White House.