For a while there last night, I thought the entire White House press corps had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with mechanical pressbots who went through the motions of asking questions of the president, teeing up one softball after another that the president still couldn't get more than a solid single in his trips to the plate.
Then I realized; no, it's just our usual gaggle of Obama worshipers who happen to have jobs working for major media outlets.
From liberal Walter Shapiro writing at The New Republic:
Through most of his inaugural primetime press conference, Barack Obama seemed like he was channeling a particularly loquacious combination of Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, and the ghost of Hubert Humphrey. The president's response to the first question from the Associated Press about the risks of sounding too apocalyptic about the economy ran (or, to be more accurate, crawled) for nearly 1,200 words--and ended with Obama saying "Okay" with an implicit question mark as if he were requesting permission to keep on talking. A national poll from the Pew Research Center released Monday afternoon found that 92 percent of Americans described Obama as a "good communicator." There is a suspicion that those astronomic numbers had dipped by the time that Obama exited from the East Room of the White House at 9 p.m. on the dot.
In Obama's defense, the press conference was the first extended glimpse that many Americans had of their new president since the Inaugural Address. No one can deny the complexity of the economic challenges facing the nation--and President Obama is uniquely equipped to play Explainer in Chief. But Obama radiated the sense of a leader who has digested too many economic briefings and memorized too many talking points in preparation for his primetime rendezvous with the public. He clearly came out in an over-caffeinated mood ready to do battle with his Republican congressional foes, whom he had already vanquished-and, as a result, he over-reacted to last week's Fox News commentary instead of focusing on the exact shape of the stimulus. What shone through the entire press conference is how irked the president is with laissez-faire conservatives who believe, even now, "that the government has no business interfering in the marketplace" and that "FDR was wrong to intervene back in the New Deal." (Presumably Amity Shlaes, the Roosevelt-ripping author, should not plan on any immediate Oval Office invitations).
What Obama was decidedly not Monday night was Kennedy-esque. When JFK unveiled the live presidential primetime press conference 48 years ago, he answered 37 questions in the space of 40 minutes; Obama only half-responded to 13 questions in the space of an hour. Admittedly, Kennedy, who had survived a narrow election, was trying to demonstrate with his competence that he was a worthy successor to Dwight Eisenhower. Obama--who romped home in November and certainly does not lie awake worrying about invidious comparisons with George W. Bush--was trying to sell a set of economic talking points. As a result, the reporters and their questions were little more than potted palms as President Obama declaimed from the East Room.
And that's an insult to potted palms.
Please note that there was not one question about Obama's slip ups with his cabinet picks, his decision to maintain Bush era war on terror policies, his broken promises on lobbyists, or any other question that might discomfit our sensitive Emoter in Chief. Contrast with Bush pressers where questions usually began with "How many times did you beat your wife today, sir?" or something similar.
No humor, no information, and no challenge from our somnolent press. If this is what we have to look forward to for 4 years, lets hope Obama can't find his way to the East Room very often.
I have more at my site on the origin of "softball questions" and why Obama is particularly suited to answering them.