The consensus post mortem verdict on Obama's most recent press conference was, for the most part, that, if nothing else, it could be bottled and sold as a sleep aid. And it's no wonder. Obama, as anyone who has listened closely to his speeches knows, has always been all style and no substance. But Obama may be finding that his style is wearing thin. And evidence of that came in one telling moment.
Last night, while not coming right out and accusing Obama of outright dishonesty, Ed Henry of CNN asked the toughest question of the night -- why Obama had waited 3 days to voice his "outrage" when he had known days before it became public that the bonuses were going to be paid.
This caught Obama completely off guard. Because the question not only called into question his honesty,(something that has already been shown to be anything but Lincoln-esque) but the subtext was that Obama had been engaging in the kind of phony political posturing that supposedly he came to Washington to change. What followed was a moment that showed Obama brought to the brink of losing his temper. With virtual contempt in his voice he answered, "because I like to know what I'm talking about before saying anything:"
It had become clear from information that became public last week ( see the blog post "The President Who Decried Bonus Wolves") that Obama's "outrage" over the AIG bonuses was, in fact, a fake. He not only knew in advance that the bonuses would be paid, he actually gave the go ahead to Treasury to ask Senator Dodd to insert the loophole that allowed them to be paid.Then, after the bonuses were paid and all hell broke loose, Obama expressed his phony public "outrage".
For anyone who has followed Obama's statements and speeches from the primary campaign through the general election, making statements without knowing what he was talking about has never been an obstacle. From taking one position and then completely reversing it concerning the DC gun law struck down by the Supreme Court, or reversing himself on Jerusalem within 24 hours, or a promise to vote against the FISA bill and then voting for it, or a pledge to accept only public campaign financing and then doing the opposite, one cannot exactly take what Obama says to the bank, especially since that bank has a number of toxic assets for quite some time. But what was telling this time was the flash of controlled that anger Obama showed when confronted by Ed Henry who did something no other journalist had attempted -- poke a hole in the Obama facade and challenge his veracity.
Up to now the press had been behaving more like Obama's valet than an adversary, doing everything but pressing his clothes. During the primary and general election campaign the press largely let Obama get away with saying just about anything. Nothing that he had said had been challenged before by a journalist --at least not until he started running for President.
A Chicago Tribune reporter wrote about his personal experience he had with Obama a few years ago when he challenged him on the validity of a statement he made during a phone conversation. According to this reporter Obama blew up on the phone, completely lost his temper and, according to the reporter, ranted at him. This is not unusual behavior for someone who carefully crafts a facade that he himself may even come to believe is real. When the self deluded are confronted with a reality that threatens the delusion they become hostile. And that is what happened last night when Ed Henry tried to pull back the curtain attempting to give a glimpse of who the Wizard behind the curtain really was.
Obama was like an undefeated prize fighter who never before had to take a punch because no journalist had ever thrown one. Henry's punch landed and for a brief moment, though it wasn't a knockout blow, dazed him. It was a punch Obama obviously never saw coming because of a mostly compliant news media or, to continue the fight analogy, a news media that could be called a Bum of the Month Club. The only defense Obama had was a snide, clearly contemptuous answer, almost as if to say how dare you even ask the question. Then he did what any fighter who is in momentary trouble does -- retreat and get out of trouble -- and he went on to the next question.
No other reporter followed up on Henry's question. While it did get a mention on CNN during the post mortem, for the most part it was glossed over. But it was a telling moment, both for the press and for Obama. And perhaps a signal that there will be those in the press he can no longer count on to be his personal valets.
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