Barack Obama held his first press conference as President tonight. With the “stimulus” plans on the table at the House and Senate, the press had an opportunity to show that it no longer was slobbering over Obama. The press failed. Not a single reporter challenged Obama on the specifics of the stimulus plans, which (contrary to Obama’s statements) are loaded with pork barrel spending (as Sen. Claire McCaskill admitted this weekend) and surreptitious attempts to restructure the health care system. Almost every stimulus-related question accepted at face value Obama’s assertion that Republicans were to blame both for the economic mess and the lack of bipartisanship.
The best question came at the beginning, from Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press:
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today in Indiana, you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis without action that we would be unable to reverse. Can you talk about what you know or what you’re hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?
It was straight down hill after that. Chip Reid of CBS sounded like he wanted a job in the administration, his question — if you can call it that — was so fawning and so played into Obama’s theme of the night, that the Republicans were to blame:
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. You have often said that bipartisanship is extraordinarily important, overall and in this stimulus package, but now, when we ask your advisers about the lack of bipartisanship so far — zero votes in the House, three in the Senate — they say, “Well, it’s not the number of votes that matters; it’s the number of jobs that will be created.” Is that a sign that you are moving away — your White House is moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship? And what went wrong? Did you underestimate how hard it would be to change the way Washington works?
Chuck Todd of NBC made an attempt at a question, but rather than taking on the stimulus bills, blamed consumers for the economic turmoil:
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. In your opening remarks, you talked about that, if your plan works the way you want it to work, it’s going to increase consumer spending. But isn’t consumer spending, or overspending, how we got into this mess? And if people get money back into their pockets, do you not want them saving it or paying down debt first before they start spending money into the economy?
I was happy when Obama called on Jake Tapper of ABC, who often asks tough questions. Jake whiffed tonight, with a softball on how we can tell if Obama’s plan for the economy is working:
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. My question follows Julianna’s in — in content. The American people have seen hundreds of billions of dollars spent already, and still the economy continues to freefall. Beyond avoiding the national catastrophe that you’ve warned about, once all the legs of your stool are in place…
Question: … how can the American people gauge whether or not your programs are working? Can they — should they be looking at the metric of the stock market, home foreclosures, unemployment? What metric should they use when and how will they know if it’s working or whether or not we need to go to a Plan B?
Major Garrett of Fox News tried to catch Obama by repeating a comment of Joe Biden about the likelihood of failure, but no one takes Biden seriously, so Obama swatted away the question with a “there he goes again” type response.
Question: Mr. President, at a speech Friday that many of us covered, Vice President Biden said the following thing about a conversation the two of you had in the Oval Office about a subject he didn’t disclose. “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, if we stand up there and we really make the tough decisions, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Since the vice president brought it up, can you tell the American people, sir, what you were talking about? And if not, can you at least reassure them it wasn’t the stimulus bill or the bank rescue plan and if, in general, you agree with that ratio of success, 30 percent failure, 70 percent success?
Michael Fletcher, The reporter for the Washington Post asked what Obama thought of A-Rod’s admission to taking steroids.
Question: Yes, thank you, sir. What is your reaction to Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he used steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers?
Wow, the Washington Post sure has come a long way since its reporters met moles in parking garages to unmask political intrigue at the highest levels of government. Are you kidding me. You get called on at a presidential press conference and you ask about A-Rod.
Mara Liason, a columnist for Fortune magazine who proved that she is not a reporter, characterized the stimulus plans as the “easy” part — what could be easier than cutting taxes and spending money:
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. If it’s this hard to get more than a handful of Republican votes on what is relatively easy — spending tons of money and cutting people’s taxes — when you look down the road at health care, and entitlement reform, and energy reform, those are really tough choices. You’re going to be asking some people to get less and some people to pay more. What do you think you’re going to have to do to get more bipartisanship? Are you going to need a new legislative model, bringing in Republicans from the very beginning, getting more involved in the details yourself from the beginning, or using bipartisan commissions? What has this experience with the stimulus led you to think about when you think about these future challenges?
Huh? How about selling out the future, burdening our children with massive debt, destroying the dollar, and causing long term financial damage to the country.
All in all, it was an embarrassing night — for the press. We’re on our own.