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William Bradley

William Bradley

Posted March 25, 2009 | 07:15 PM (EST)

Prime Time O: How the Omnipresent President Is Doing



President Barack Obama did the second prime time news conference of his young presidency Tuesday night in the White House.

We can't afford to go back, and things are on course. That's the meta-message from six days of very high-profile appearances by President Barack Obama, culminating with Tuesday night's prime time news conference.

"We can't afford to go back," as in, "We can't afford not to transform this economy as we revive it."

Stanch the hemorrhaging of our personal and governmental financial base on health care by reforming it. Transform our resource base by shifting from non-renewable energy sources dominated by countries we can't count on to new, greener technologies that curtail the greenhouse effect, create jobs, and position America for leadership in new industries. Recreate our knowledge base by improving a slumping education system. Revive our physical base by investing in infrastructure.

As for the "things being on course" part of the message, what struck me most about Obama's prime time news conference, the second of his young presidency -- George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did only four apiece during the 16 years they served -- was how routine it felt.

While the nation's media culture seems only slightly less hysterical, Tuesday night's White House event had little of the crisis-ridden atmospherics of Obama's first prime time presser. Obama walked out, delivered his rather sober but confident message, entertained some mildly contentious questions, and was done.

Just over 40 million Americans watched Obama, a huge number, down just a few million from his crisis-ridden first prime time news conference last month.

It wasn't very exciting, as some have complained, but maybe that's part of the the point.


Obama is the first sitting president to appear on The Tonight Show.

It's been quite a whirlwind for the omnipresent president. Starting last Wednesday, he did two town hall meetings in California, made his "March Madness" NCAA basketball tournament bracket picks on ESPN, became the first president to appear on The Tonight Show, met twice with Arnold Schwarzenegger, made a video address to the people of Iran, skipped the oldline media staple known as the Gridiron Dinner, appeared on 60 Minutes, published an op-ed piece simultaneously in newspapers around the world, talked with astronauts on the International Space Station, and made repeated statements on the economic crisis, his budget priorities, and the AIG bonus scandal.

Through it all, Obama has kept his job approval rating high and easily weathered the controversy around Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner helping enable the AIG bonuses. Which Geithner says was a legal necessity. Whether it was or not, the heat is abating and the congressional move to enact an ex post facto tax on the bonuses, so current last week, is already on the backburner.

Those widely condemned big bonuses for executives of the publicly bailed out insurance giant American International Group leave virtually all players with egg on their faces. Except for Obama.


Obama talked up renewable energy and green tech as transformational cornerstones of his economic revival program.

According to the new Gallup Poll, 54% rate Obama positively in the affair, with only 29% looking at him negatively. AIG management comes out 80% negative and only 12% positive. Congress does better, but not much, with 65% negative and 26% positive, while Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is 54% negative and 28% positive.

Unsurprisingly, a whopping 69% believe that all the bonus money should be returned, with 13% saying half of it should be and only 12% (and this is the Rush Limbaugh position) saying that none of it should be.

There's no consensus on how to get the money back. Only 25% back what House Democrats passed last week, a 90% tax on the bonuses. (Notably, only 29% of Democrats back this.) 27% want the money returned voluntarily, while 26% want the funds recovered via legal action or as a precondition for future government bailout support.

For all the sturm and drang, justifiable given the outrageousness of the situation, most voters, even most Democrats, reject the seemingly populist answer to the AIG scandal devised by House Democratic liberals and take a more pragmatic view.

For all his talk of transformation, Obama seems to feel that he has to keep bribing, if you will, Wall Street players, albeit to a lesser degree than in the past in order to keep the system running.


Obama delivered a video message to the people of Iran.

For all that they have been exposed as far less than "masters of the universe" in the financial meltdown which their maneuvers helped precipitate, it's become clear that most of us know even less about the complexities of high finance.

This means that much of the left will be unsatisfied about not getting their pound of flesh. And much of the right will be left unhappy because Obama keeps talking down the money culture they've exalted.

The rest will be satisfied if Obama is on top of things and things are getting better.

We are having an uptick, at least for now. Durable goods orders are up for the first time in months. Housing seems to be rising a bit from the bottom. California's bond sale this week was oversubscribed. Stock markets are up around the world, in part in response to Geithner's plan to deal with the banks' toxic assets. Oil is up over 50% since passage of Obama's economic recovery program (not exactly a plus for the consumer but better for global stability), in part in anticipation of increased economic activity.

It wouldn't do to be breaking out the champagne, though, and not just because the dollar is so bad against the euro.

But the first reasonably good economic news in quite awhile is better than more bad news.


Obama spoke with the astronauts on the International Space Station.

So the latest meme from our emotionally overburdened conventional media -- that Barack Obama is "overexposed" -- is essentially non-serious.

His all-media offensive is working, and, coincidence or not, is happening at the same time as some good news.

In any event, those so concerned about Obama's media exposure had best learn to live with it.

The next few days will be less dramatic than the past week, although he does have a first ever White House online town hall meeting on Thursday. But then it gets intense again, very intense.

Next week, Obama makes his first major foreign trip. He goes to London for the G-20 (group of 20 advanced economies) summit, to Prague to meet with the European Union leaders, and to Strasbourg for the 60th anniversary summit of NATO.

Obama's new strategy for the Afghanistan War will be out, a big story in itself, but just one of several. Reviving the global economy, newly regulating the transnational financial system, dealing with climate change, handling the crises in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the future of NATO, all these will be front and center. Along with international enthusiasm for the new American president.

It will make going on The Tonight Show look like small beer.


You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.