Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jousting with Obama

I LOVE IT when White House reporters boldly attempt to go one-on-one with President Obama intellectually. They actually expect to win the tournament. And every time, they get slam-dunked or otherwise taken to school by the Professor in Chief. During press briefings, it's like a scene out of The Paper Chase where cocksure Harvard law students attempt to match wits with Professor Charles Kingsfield (played by John Houseman) -- and lose. Take yesterday's press conference on the sequester mess. AP's Julie Pace, a bright Northwestern University grad, tried to goad the president into admitting he's no Daniel Day Lewis, I mean, Lincoln. To wit:
Pace: "Mr. President, how much responsibility do you feel like you bear for these cuts taking effect?"
As usual, Obama responded thoughtfully and at length. But the Paper Chasing Ms. Pace wasn't satisfied, so she daringly went for the presidential jugular. Big mistake:
Pace: "It sounds like you're saying that this is a Republican problem and not one that you bear any responsibility for."
Obama flashed his trademark mega-smile, steadied his gaze, and fingered the trigger of his impending trap.
"Well, Julie, give me an example of what I might do?" Obama asked playfully.
"I'm just trying to clarify your statement," Pace responded, now squirming.
"Well, no, but I'm trying to clarify the question," Obama said, pulling the trigger.
Kersplat, goes the trap. Ms. Pace, you've just been served. Obama completes his shot:
"What I'm suggesting is, I've put forward a plan that calls for serious spending cuts, serious entitlement reforms, goes right at the problem that is at the heart of our long-term deficit problem. I've offered negotiations around that kind of balanced approach. And so far, we've gotten rebuffed because what Speaker Boehner and the Republicans have said is, we cannot do any revenue, we can't do a dime's worth of revenue. So what more do you think I should do? Okay, I just wanted to clarify. (Laughter.) Because if people have a suggestion, I'm happy to -- this is a room full of smart folks." (More laughter)
Heh. Next up, CNN's Jessica Yellin, a Harvard College grad, magna cum laude no less.
Yellin: "Mr. President, to your question, what could you do - first of all, couldn’t you just have them down here and refuse to let them leave the room until you have a deal?" (Laughter.)
Obama -- Harvard grad, Law Review, and constitutional scholar -- again flashed that winsome smile, targeted his quarry and, well, you know what's coming.
Obama: "I mean, Jessica, I am not a dictator. I’m the President. So, ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, we need to go to catch a plane, I can't have Secret Service block the doorway, right? So ..."
Yellin (again trying the mythical Lincoln gambit): "But isn’t that part of leadership? I’m sorry to interrupt, but isn’t –"
Obama (lowering the boom): "I understand. And I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that's been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don't take it means that I should somehow do a 'Jedi mind-meld' with these folks and convince them to do what’s right. Well, they're elected. ... And this idea that somehow there’s a secret formula or secret sauce to get Speaker Boehner or Mitch McConnell to say, you know what, Mr. President, you’re right, we should close some tax loopholes for the well-off and well-connected in exchange for some serious entitlement reform and spending cuts of programs we don't need. I think if there was a secret way to do that, I would have tried it. I would have done it. ... What I can do is I can make the best possible argument. And I can offer concessions, and I can offer compromise. I can negotiate. I can make sure that my party is willing to compromise and is not being ideological or thinking about these just in terms of political terms. And I think I've done that and I will continue to do that. But what I can't do is force Congress to do the right thing."
Nor can he force White House correspondents to ask smarter questions. Obama 2, Reporters 0.

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