Alas, I wish there were more press conferences for me to synopsize, but the president being who he is, we must satisfy ourselves with what we have. What we have today is an hour-and-17 minute press conference in which he took 22 questions, stuttered no fewer than five times, and laughed inappropriately at least once (Hint: Answers to questions about bin Laden's capture a day before 9/11 should not be preceded by a chuckle.), but ended on a surprisingly strong note and, though he meandered, didn't manage to meander into a major gaffe of any kind.
I started watching the event a tad late, and thought I was listening to Obama's opening statement, but I was informed by a colleague about 7 minutes in that it was, in fact, his answer to the first question. He does have a way with words. Lots and lots of words.
Probably the best moment came when Jake Tapper asked the president about health care, after which there was much stuttering. So, we'll just start with that and move onto the president's greater successes, which will be buried below the fold.
Tapper: ...[O]n health care reform, this is six months since health care passed. You pledged, A, that you would bend the cost curve, and, B, that Democrats would be able to campaign on this. And CMS reported yesterday that the cost curve is actually bending up: from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent post-health care legislation. And the only Democrats I've seen talking about health care legislation are running TV ads saying that they voted against it. Thank you.
And, then we have one of the most, dare I say, audacious uses of the Obama patented "I've consistently said something I have most certainly not consistently said" in the history of his presidency, in which we learn that he's always said, consistently, that health care reform would cost a whole bunch of money and not bend the cost curve down.
With respect to health care, what I said during the debate is the same thing I'm saying now, and it's the same thing I will say three or four years from now. Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do. We've got hundreds of thousands of providers and doctors and systems and insurers, and what we did was we took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time. But I said at the time it wasn't going to happen tomorrow, it wasn't going to happen next year. It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs.
Tapper interjects with a clarification of the meanings of "up" and "down": "CMS study from February predicted a 6.1 percent increase, and now post-health care 6.3 percent. So it seems to have bent it up."
OBAMA: No -- as I said, I haven't read the entire study. Maybe you have. But -- you know, if -- if you -- if what the reports are true, what they're saying is, is that as a consequence of us getting 30 million additional people health care, at the margins that's going to increase our costs, we knew that. We didn't think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free. But that the long-term trend in terms of how much the average family is going to be paying for health insurance is going to be improved as a consequence of health care. And -- and so our goal on health care is if we can get instead of health care costs going up 6 percent a year, it's going up at the level of inflation, maybe just slightly above inflation, we've made huge progress. And by the way, that is the single most important thing we could do in terms of reducing our deficit. That's why we did it. That's why it's important. And that's why we're going to implement it effectively.
Well, some people knew that. I believe they used to be called fearmongers and liars. Obama in March: “My proposal will bring down the cost of health care for millions: Families, businesses, and the federal government.”
When asked why Democrats have been running as hard as they can away from Obamacare instead of running on it, as Obama guaranteed they could, Obama offered a School House Rock primer on...the mechanics of elections:
Well, you know, there are -- we're in a political season where every candidate out there has their own district, their own make-up, their own plan, their own message. And, you know, in an environment where we've still got 9.5 percent unemployment, you know, people are going to make the best argument they can right now. And they're going to be taking polls of what their particular constituents are saying and trying to align with that oftentimes. You know, that's -- that's how political races work.
In news of other things that turned out to be "hard" after Obama had assured us they'd be a breeze, a reporter asked why the civilian trial of KSM is stalled and why Guantanamo Bay is not closed, as the president had promised it would be.
Obama conceded his pledge was broken: "We have succeeded on delivering on a lot of campaign promises we've made. One where we've fallen short is Guantanamo."
He went on to blame his inability to close the facility on the "politics" of it, forgetting that the actual problem is the very real logistics of moving a bunch of dangerous criminals whom no one wants to take (including their home countries)— logistics which Obama blithely dismissed back when he was promising he'd have Gitmo closed by a year and a half ago.
As to those civilian trials of 9/11 conspirators near the very land on which they left a dusty scar and untold open psychic wounds, it's still very important than we have them in order to show the world our best face and our tough but fair transcendant values. Also, the hallmark of our justice system: guaranteed conviction.
"We know that this person's guilty," said the president.
There was, of course, a question about rising tensions in America about Islam. Reporters were careful not to mention the name of the crazy Koran-burning preacher they've spent the last two weeks talking about incessantly, finally realizing that perhaps the elevation of such a nut for the purpose of feeding the redneck Islamaphobia narrative had become a little more dangerous than they'd anticipated in that it ticked off conservatives, who yell at political meetings when they're offended, far less than it ticked off Muslim extremists who blow people up when they're offended.
Obama repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the "individual's" decision to burn Korans, invoking the safety of the troops as reason to cease and desist. There was some bipartisan agreement in the Twitter world that this was an insufficient and creepy justification for the President of the United States to ask private citizens not to engage in acts of free expression.
When it came to both the Islamaphobia and the Ground Zero Mosque questions, Obama's answers were far more skillfull than his hemming and hawing about health care. There were flashes of his virtually forgotten ability to uplift in a speech as he talked about respecting our Muslim neighbors as part of "us" as an American whole, honoring their service as part of the armed forces in Afghanistan, and painting the picture of American Muslims as normal folks who worry about jobs and their kids and their bills.
What started as a misidentification of the unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence went on to become a strong and emotional ending for the press conference, even if you disagree with it and wonder why he never offers any reassurance of a crazy pastor's right to free speech while questioning its wisdom (presumably just as sacred as the free practice of religion) while waxing poetic about the mosque.
And—stop the presses!—he praised President Bush at the beginning of one answer, saying, "One of the things I most admired about President Bush was, after 9/11, him being crystal clear about that we were not at war with Islam. We were at war with terrorist who pervert the faith of Islam."
But there was one people cruelly excluded from Obama's pluralism today. He declared us "one nation, under God" even if we "call that God by different names," not for an instant pausing to acknowledge our atheist brothers and sisters, who only refer to the man upstairs as "partially cloudy and 78 percent nitrogen."
For all his eloquence, Obama couldn't find his way out of this one: "Seriously, Mr. President, how come you won't just call the $50 billion stimulus a stimulus?" At which point, the president defended the first stimulus with this bit of eloquence: "It worked; it just hasn't done what we need it to do," said Obama.
He then declared it perfectly acceptable to use the verb form of "stimulus," just not the noun:
"It's designed to stimulate..I have no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate the economy."
Well, now that we've got that straightened out. I think he's been "perfectly clear."
On tax cuts, the president persisted in his willful misundertanding of tax terms by calling his gracious willingness not to jack up the current tax rate substantially on a particular segment of the population, "middle-class tax relief." He also said he wants to "provide certainty" for that particular segment of the population, just not the other parts, where people would need it to invest in new businesses and new employees.
He then declared that he's after "broad-based growth and economic expansion," but acknowledged he's "doing that against some tough headwinds," such as his aforementioned fervent desire to raise taxes in an economic downturn.
There was one question from Chuck Todd, who I think spoke for all of us, when he asked with a hint of dejection and disillusionment, "Have you changed Washington?" Obama professed to have changed it very much indeed. You see, before 2008 the capital was full of untelevised hearings, backroom deals, and outsized special interest influence, and now... Barack Obama's the president.
He finished this answer with a customary flourish, positively dancing a jig with his favorite straw man, as he restated the question disingenuously: "If you're asking if I've done every thing perfectly for the past 18 months, the answer is no."
And, that loyal readers, to the best of my recollection and ability to regurgitate, was the presser, synopsized.
Flashback: 2009's primetime presser, synopsized.