Paul Greenberg

Our president is one cool customer, careful to stay a little distant from his Scandal of the Day, sidestepping any embarrassing questions rather than confronting them, analyzing his critics rather than answering them, looking down on the political circus even as he stars in it. And he does it all so smoothly.

Why, sure. Why rock the boat when he can guide it so deftly that no one may notice his hand on the tiller? It's worked so far. The country seems to like his style. See the results of the last presidential election.

Don Draper is a fictional character, the centerpiece of the soap opera and costume drama set in the 1960ish suites of Madison Avenue, and so cool a customer he made "Mad Men" a must-watch in its heyday. As played by the talented Jon Hamm, who was born to play this role, Don Draper is something to see, all right, if just for his extensive repertoire of variations on a single word: What?

Depending on the circumstances, Don Draper can make What? a question, an exclamation, a taunt or a greeting, or just a verbal reflex -- or almost anything else. He's got a whole orchestra of tones, a veritable Mormon Tabernacle Choir of them, in which to deliver that single all-expressive syllable, What? Don is a kind of artist in his own way, projecting a mystery he knows his audience can't resist wondering about.

And he could've been voicing my own reaction to the president's press conference Monday about Benghazi, though it also touched on other subjects. But those were just side dishes. The British prime minister was in town and in attendance, but he was only part of the backdrop, a prop, like a potted palm. His visit was the occasion, not the reason, for this presidential tour de force. The starring role, as always, was played by Maestro Obama, even if his old magic has started to fade.

Hope and Change may have become only ironic terms when applied to this president, but he's doubling down on Audacity. As he proceeded to offer one cover story after another to cover the gaps in the earlier ones, our response was much the same as that of the veteran foreign officer Gregory Hicks when he heard the very first cover story at the start of l'Affaire Benghazi: "I was stunned. My jaw dropped."

But this time it wasn't the shamelessness of the president's changing stories but the sheer profusion of them that impressed. There were so many to choose from that it would be hard to pick my favorite three or four -- or 10. A whole Hallelujah Chorus of What? in all its varied, organ-deep chords began to resound in my mind. As when the president said:


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.