It tells you something that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq came up at the president's press conference. The United States is simultaneously prosecuting two wars in the Muslim world and neither merited a question of the president. It's the surest sign of how quickly attention shifts and flits from one topic to another and how surefooted the White House needs to be in a fluid news environment. Iran might have gotten one question a few weeks ago. Now it dominates the news conference. The collapse of the American automotive industry didn't come up either, nor did rail safety after yesterday's accident or hate crimes, which so dominated the news cycle after the shooting at the Holocaust Memorial. Nothing lasts.
So given the changing world, how did Obama do both in terms of style and substance?
On Iran, I agree with my colleague, Marc Ambinder, that the president shifted tone, taking a somewhat harder tack against the current regime, but it wasn't nearly the shift that the TV correspondents who questioned the president tried to make it. Fox News's Major Garrett asked what took the president so long and Chip Reid of CBS asked the president if his hard line was owing to John McCain and Lindsey Graham. But I think overall the president held the line, resisting the entreaties of those who want to be all blustery about Iran. He took it up a notch because the violence in Iran has gone up a notch. But he hasn't gone all tear-down-this-wall on Tehran either. He made it clear that he wasn't going to give the Ayatollahs the ammo to say that America is behind the protests. He wasn't going to get into regime change or align with Mousavi. And he certainly wasn't going to declare that Mousavi was the winner of the election. But by reaching out to The Huffington Post's Nico Pitney--apparently the White House called Pitney and asked for some of the questions that Iranians have been Twittering--they chose to up the ante a bit anyway with some more direct speaking to the people. I rather liked his direct appeal to Iranian women in his opening remarks: "Above all, we've seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we've experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets."
On health care, I'm not surprised that he refused to say he'd veto a plan that didn't have a public option. He did make his fullest case yet for why such an option is needed--as a tool to cudgel the private insurers.
The weirdest moment came when he got asked about his own smoking and the new law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco. First, he referred to it as his law, which seemed a little grandiose since the likes of Henry Waxman have been pushing it since he was just a Chicago law professor. But more odd was his rather lengthy, odd defense of his current smoking. He likened it to being in "AA," which is an unsettling image ("Everyone, this is Barack." "Hi, Barack.") and he pronounced himself 95 percent cured, which sounds odd. And his lawyerly answer about not smoking in front of family raised more questions than answers. You wished he'd just said that he struggled with it and not gotten into specifics or alchoholism metaphors.
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