Those who've followed this column over the years know that when President Obama was first elected, I tried valiantly to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believed for the best that his promise of "change" would be an exercise in moderation and sound judgment. But that didn't happen, and this past week's elections were a comprehensive rebuke of the first two years of his presidency.
What amazed me most was his press conference following the elections. The White House press corps finally found the courage to ask some tough questions. And the president? He seemed not to comprehend -- or at least not to acknowledge -- the message the American people had just sent him, courtesy of a resounding electoral defeat for Democrats nationwide.
Although he did concede to the Democrats having taken "a shellacking," he also seemed unable to just come out and say, "I've made some big mistakes, and I need to correct them." Instead, he used the persistently ailing economy as a crutch.
This ignored that it has been at least partly his own and the Democrats' policies that have probably worsened our economic malaise. It's also precisely these policies that drew droves of Republicans and others to the polls last Tuesday.
Then he addressed the issue of trying to work productively with the new U.S. House, now to be under Republican control. We could quibble over whether he showed any willingness to be conciliatory with the GOP. But his main example of potential compromise was climate control. He prominently mentioned electric cars.
This is a White House completely out of touch. When asked -- by a reporter from liberal NBC, of all people -- whether the president would accept that his politics may have contributed to the thumping that many of his fellow Democrats took on Election Day, the president danced around. He suggested that the American people were upset in large part because the effectiveness of Democratic policies is underappreciated for not always having been obvious to see.
This dodged completely the fact that his own former chief of staff once famously said that emergencies were made to be taken advantage of politically.
Finally, a reporter bluntly asked the president about the elephant in the room, health care reform. Obama defended himself as having produced legislation beneficial in many ways, including a provision that allows children up to 26 years old to remain on their parents' insurance policies.
He even acknowledged that it may have been overly burdensome on small businesses to have to issue 1099 federal tax forms to any individual or other entity with whom that business pays over $600 a year. Wow! A breakthrough! But even then, the president said we'll have to wait and see what's best to do or not do about it. Well Mr. President, there aren't enough 1099 forms in America to meet that hidden requirement in the bill.
This isn't to suggest that Obama did not seem at all humbled. But he skipped around, venturing his toe halfway into the cold water here and there. Reporters pressed him on the effect that his and Congress' policies might have had on so many longtime Democratic congressmen and -women who lost on Tuesday. He said every one of those defeated congressional members told him that they had no regrets for having voted for his policies.
Doubtless that will come in handy when these soon-to-be former lawmakers are applying for jobs as greeters at the nearest discount chain store. (Or maybe they'll become lobbyists in a few years.)
I want to disabuse the misinformed over their belief that Obama can only talk with a teleprompter. He could have had a console full of teleprompters to read from at that press conference, and he still would have needed to find a corner to hide. The Washington press corps was finally acting as it should and confronting the president over his litany of ifs, buts and maybes.
George W. Bush's new memoir is about to be released. My guess is that it will contain more candor in its first 100 pages than we witnessed at the president's post-election press conference.
Like too many of his policies, this get-together with the press harmed Obama more than it helped him. His strategy for the event was probably misconceived by the same advisers and others that have led him astray so continually for almost two years.<
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