Scripted. Careful. Tentative. False. Packaged.
That’s “No Drama” Obama these days after an ad lib gone bad on Leno and inappropriate laughter on “60 minutes.”
Caution: not confidence. In body lanuage and words the president is a giant blinking caution light.
“Full recovery is still months away,” I heard a news reader say. “The president tried to rally the nation.”
Obviously: this is a bowler that has never been to a rally.
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What kind of politician brings a teleprompter to a news conference?
A careful one.
President Barack Obama took no chances in his second prime-time news conference, reading a prepared statement in which he took both sides of the AIG bonus brouhaha and asked an anxious nation for its patience.
“There are no quick fixes,” he said, “and there are no silver bullets.”
It’s an interesting dichotomy: Obama came before the nation to sell one of the most expensive and politically risky agendas ever offered by a U.S. president, but his language was heavy with caution. A hard-willed plan given a soft sell.
President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Served up opportunities to lead with his heart, Obama was cerebral. Cool and calming in a time of white-hot public anger.
“You know, there was a lot of outrage and finger-pointing last week, and much of it is understandable,” Obama said of the bonus issue in his opening remarks. “I’m as angry as anybody about those bonuses that went to some of the very same individuals who brought our financial system to its knees.”
“Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over,” the president told reporters and the nation.
But he didn’t look angry. Nor did he sound much like a pitchfork-wielding populist.
“At the same time, the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more,” he said.
It was a carefully modulated statement, and Obama—relying on a familiar crutch—read it off a flat-screen monitor perched at the back of the East Room.
The teleprompter was no help during the question-and-answer session (reporters don’t signal their intentions), but Obama was no less careful during that give and take.
Asked why people should trust government with the regulatory authority to take over failing financial companies such as troubled insurer American International Group Inc., Obama passed on the chance to demonize Washington.
“Keep in mind, it is precisely because of the lack of this authority that the AIG situation has gotten worse,” Obama said. He then gave a scholarly explanation of how the proposal would work.
Pressed again, Obama cited the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s handling of the IndyMac Bank as an example of government properly using its authority.
The government did something right? That’s news to most Americans.
Still, it’s hard to criticize Obama’s communication skills or tactics. Polls show that while the public has turned against Washington and Wall Street, the president’s ratings remain steady.
He has aggressively delivered his cautious message—through town halls, talk shows, travel and, yes, prime-time news conferences. His message: Stick with me and my $3.6 trillion budget.
“This is a big ocean liner, it’s not a speedboat. It doesn’t turn around immediately,” he said Tuesday night. “But we’re in a better, better place because of the decisions that we made.”
Calm. Cool. Careful.
One of the few times he summoned raw emotion came after a reporter demanded to know why it took him so long to express outrage over the AIG executive bonuses.
“It took a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”
Even better, he likes to have it up on the teleprompter.