A lot of lefty bloggers are calling the president’s question-and-answer session yesterday with House Republicans his “finest hour.” And there’s no doubt, even among his conservative critics, that it was a great performance. But, was it more than just that, a great performance, a mere bit of political theater?
At this Republican retreat, he got what most Republican presidents get in their press conferences: tough questions from their critics. And by most accounts, he conducted himself masterfully. The National Review’s Jim Geraghty believes “this event did Obama a great deal of good“:
it was the antidote to everything that was insufferable about the State of the Union – the uninterrupted platitudes, the dishonest framing, the aversion to acknowledging alternative views, the endless droning, etc.
Allahpundit thinks “the format ended up benefiting Obama more than” House Republicans:
He was on camera the whole time; he did most of the talking; he got to show that he’s perfectly capable of extemporaneous debate even with multiple prepared challengers lobbing questions.
First, major kudos to Obama for doing this and conducting himself with such grace. The real test will be whether or not he can show some flexibility in responding to the concerns Republicans raised yesterday. It’s one thing to conduct a press conference-style exchange on broad issues of policy. It’s another thing to work with legislators from the opposing party to craft real legislation.
In reading the various encomia of the president’s performance (as well as some more critical coverage), watching segments of the exchange and reviewing the transcript, I agree he was more on “his game” than he has been in recent days. But, the way he handled his critics suggest that he didn’t see his job in going to the Republican retreat as a means to solicit Republican ideas, but instead as an opportunity to convince them of the merits of his own. He’s just trying to, to borrow an expression from his State of the Union address, explain himself “more clearly to the American people,” righting what is, in his view, the biggest wrong of his first year in office.
And therein lies his greatest weakness–that he believes people will just support his agenda if he expresses himself more clearly. The problem, he believes, is not the ideas, but their expression.