President Obama just wrapped up his traditional year-end press conference, wishing the media a Merry Christmas as he prepares to depart for a Hawaiian vacation. A few comments on his performance:
(1) Obama repeated his now familiar spiel about the country being in much better shape now than when he took office, praising what he termed an "American resurgence." He claimed improvement by almost any conceivable measure; "pick any metric," he said. Setting aside numerous metrics like the national debt, poverty rates, median household income, wage growth, workforce participation, and (still) rising healthcare costs, Obama is advancing an argument that Americans just don't believe. Right track/wrong track numbers are in the toilet. His job approval rating is weak. Americans don't believe the country is better off, nor do they feel as though our standing in the world is stronger. But he's welcome to use his bully pulpit to try to convince them otherwise -- if they're still listening to him.
(2) The president's answer on the North Korea/Sony situation was solid. He stated in no uncertain terms that Pyongyang was responsible for the "cyber assault," and vowed that "we will respond." Obama said he wouldn't spell out what that response would be, or when it might come, for public consumption. Despite expressing some sympathy for the tough spot in which the company finds itself, the president condemned Sony for caving to the terrorists' demands by canceling the release of a comedy film that drew North Korea's ire. Obama forcefully stated that free societies cannot censor themselves to placate the threats and demands of violent actors. Yes, he can be criticized for hypocrisy here, and I'd be curious about his thoughts on Western media suppressing the Mohammad cartoons, but his tone and message were on point in this case.
(3) He didn't come out and say it, but the president telegraphed an inclination toward vetoing the Keystone Pipeline if and when Republicans pass legislation next year. Obama listed the alleged drawbacks of the popular project, sniffing that it would only create "a few thousand" temporary jobs. At another point in the press conference, he demanded more government spending on infrastructure projects (ignoring his failed "stimulus" altogether, of course). So Obama is unimpressed with temporary, private sector infrastructure jobs, but he's insistent upon taxpayers funding other temporary infrastructure jobs. Hmm.
(4) Aside from the North Korea exchange, none of my suggested questions were asked. One reporter touched on executive power, but her question was weak. It basically asked if he's worried about Republicans working with him less as a consequence of his unilateral action -- a political process question that skirts around the core issue. On immigration, Obama again claimed that Congress' refusal to carry out his will 'forced' him to act on his own, via an executive decree that he'd repeatedly averred was beyond his presidential authority.
(5) I counted eight total questions (or question sets), all of which came from women. The president did not call on any male reporters, nor did any television reporters get a question. Many of the questions were sharp, and there's obviously nothing wrong with selecting female interrogators, but it's worth noting that Obama's picks ensured that three of the journalists who consistently ask the toughest questions in White House briefings (Fox's Ed Henry, CBS' Major Garrett and ABC's Jonathan Karl) were all shut out. Make of that what you will.