Barack Obama News Conference Watchathon and LiveBlog Reaction (4-29-09)
At 8:00 PM, you
can watch could have watched the Barack Obama news conference right here, live, thanks to Hulu.
I’ll be liveblogging the news conference by updates to this post. Feel free to join me in reflection through the comments.
What I’m looking for:
- discussion of U.S. torture policy and the role of justice
- frankness on the issue of warrantless surveillance of Americans and the 4th Amendment
What I expect:
- A lame throwaway speculate-about-this-historic-moment question to waste our time
- An irrelevant question about Arlen Specter and the important role of blah, blah, blah, bipartisanship, blah, blah, blah, common oneness, blah, blah, blah, uniting to defeat Skeletor
- Multiple questions about swine flu, excuse me!, the pork-is-a-yummy-and-safe-but-not-kosher-meat flu
- Economy, economy, economy.
Ah. I may disagree with some of Barack Obama’s policies, but it is nice to have a president who doesn’t smirk or sneer and who can manage to complete a sentence. Let’s see if he can keep that up when he’s buffeted with tough questions placed at the end of his honeymoon.
Campaign speech. Barack Obama, amazingly, declares his intention to do good things and strive against bad things. And we’ll be a beacon for weary travelers. Like that sleepy bear at the Travelodge. We’re almost there…
Stupid question: Is it time to close the border with Mexico? Take out a ruler, you silly reporter person, and measure the length of the border! How many dollars would it take to seal the border? How much better could those dollars be spent for domestic Tamiflu distribution?
Obama’s smart answer: “It would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out.” Yes. There’s a swine flu case in my city of Columbus, Ohio now. This virus is here and unless we all lock ourselves in cages the virus will spread here. Mexico is moot.
“Wash your hands… I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a difference.” That’s what I tell my kid! And does it work? Nooooooo!
“Because this is a new strain, we have to be cautious.” This is the word coming out of the hospitals. H1N1 immunity in the human population is nil, so it’s important to endow our hospitals and other public health institutions with the resources they need to a) engage in practical research on the virus and in vaccine development and b) deploy necessary medication and health care to minimize what loss will occur.
Virus? Check. Economy? Check. These are softball questions: gee, Mr. President, would you like to talk about this predictable topic?
Torture Question: “Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?”
“Waterboarding violates our ideals and values. I do believe it is torture. That’s not just my opinion…”
yes, but ANSWER THE QUESTION! Characterize the behavior of the previous administration, and then let what follows from that follow.
OK, good point by Obama: London was being “BOMBED to smithereens” during World War II (much worse than September 11), and Churchill refused to engage in torture of Britain’s Nazi detainees.
But still no answer of this good question: how would you characterize what the previous administration has done, and what does that imply given American standards of justice, equality under the law, etc?
Reporter knows Obama hasn’t answered the question and follows up. Obama responds with a wiggle: “I believe that waterboarding was torture, and that whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.” He continues to wiggle through the next question, refusing to say what is pretty darned obvious: that George W. Bush and members of his administration participated in a conspiracy to commit torture. Wiggling around the truth doesn’t look good, President Obama.
Don’t, to use your own words tonight, “take shortcuts that undermine who we are,” Mister President!
The reporters just did their best to get a clear statement out of Barack Obama on torture and the role of a legal day justice for those who illegally treated others. Through his refusal to answer, Barack Obama makes his position clear: he knows that what Bush and his cabinet did was against the law, he knows if he says that there will have to be a legal investigation, and he just does not want to go there. The law will not apply to everyone.
Regardless of what you think of Obama’s policy positions, the contrast with George W. Bush is undeniable. Obama is in control of the room, even when reporters joust with him. I won’t go so far to say that he’s unflappable, but he surely isn’t being flapped tonight. No more blinky-smirky-giggly-angry-swaggery bluster from the likes of Bush. Barack Obama is prepared and can think reasonably well on his feet.
Ah, here comes the stupid and irrelevant Arlen Specter question.
Obama: “Congress is a coequal branch of government.” Ahhhhh.
“Ed Henry!” calls Obama without looking at Ed Henry, THEN looks for him. Sure looks like he has a who-to-call-on list. How did certain journalists get on that list? What kind of coordination is going on? This was seen as a problem by Democratic partisans when George W. Bush did it. Will they be silent at seeing it so clearly now?
Obama’s abortion position, succinctly stated: “The reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take that decision casually… I believe they’re in a better position to make that decision, ultimately, than members of Congress or the President of the United States.”
“Jeff Zeleny” calls Obama, with Zeleny (of the NY Times) not even raising his hand. Question list! Jeff Zeleny lobs a softball as a big wet thank you, basically asking If your presidency could be a flavor of Life Saver, which flavor would it be and why? Softball!
qs comments that s/he’d rather we didn’t have a president at all. OK, there. Let’s abolish the electoral college first, and then we can tackle the little object of repealing all of Article II of the Constitution. Might be a while. Until then we have to deal with the presidency.
Reporter: Are you still on a timetable to accomplish immigration reform in the first year of your presidency, and will you reach out to McCain? Obama: I reach out to McCain all the time; boy, am I reachy! And we must do something… nice and vague and non-timeliney. There are some very good legislators on this issue. Read: come on, you reporter, you, I’ve got a mob on the White House chanting “Swine Flu!” I’ve got teabaggers, I’ve got people losing their jobs… you bet this is on the back burner! Hey Congress, maybe you can do something while I’m busy over here…
Fairly inane question by a reporter: Black people tend to be more poor (true) and are therefore disproportionately hurting (true); what are your plans to help the Black community (appeal to splitting rather than joining)?
Obama’s reasonable response: “Keep in mind that the policies we have in mind are targeted to help all people.” He follows up that the key is increasing opportunity for all people who are looking for a way to develop themselves personally and thereby contribute more to society.
States secrets privilege. Excellent question: “How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush’s?”
Obama’s response: “I actually think that the states secret provision should be modified.” But keep in mind, Obama says, that we’re in for a week and these cases come up and “we don’t have time to think through what should a overarching reform take. I think it is appropriate to say there are going to be cases in which nationa security interests are at stake, and you can’t litigate” without “revealing covert information which would compromise our safety. But looking for ways to redact information, to see what can be done… there should be additional tools so that it will not be a blunt instrument.” Translation: I want to keep the states secrets privilege and be able to decide what’s suitable for the public to know, but darn it, the judges are ruling against me on this, so maybe we’ll have to sort things out. Keep your eyes on this. This looks like a point at which useful pressure can be applied.
Meta comment: The Hulu embedding of a live event worked really well, with no hiccups on my end at least. And as with C-SPAN coverage, there’s the advantage of a) getting the raw feed of an event, not having to listen to before-and-after pundit discussion, and b) getting a sense of what it’s like to be there by peeking in on reporters chatting each other up and politicians circling up for the post-conference spinfest. Helen Thomas is not looking good, and younger reporters are nodding and smiling at her and moving on to their industrious something-or-othering.
I was impressed and relieved that the presidential authority issue and the justice-for-torture issue got aired, hopefully giving Barack Obama the idea that some people out there care about these issues. I wish warrantless wiretapping had gotten particular coverage, but I can’t get everything I want. Wait, yes, yes I can. Where did I put that magic wand of mine?