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Obama Should Hold Press Conference Soon

[ Posted Monday, February 1st, 2010 – 15:26 PST ]

President Obama seems to have recently discarded the advice of timid advisors who bought into the media's "overexposed" myth last summer, and has hit the ground running in the past few weeks. Perhaps it is due to the re-emergence of David Plouffe, but for whatever reason, Obama has been out there talking to people again. He held a few town hall events surrounding his high-profile State Of The Union address last week, and then delighted many Democrats by entering the lions' den of the House Republican retreat on Friday, where he answered questions for over an hour -- with the television cameras rolling. He needs to cap off this recent communications strategy shift with something that has been missing for months -- a real press conference.

This doesn't (as a sop to the "overexposed" crowd) necessarily have to be a primetime event, either. It can be a little more informal than that, without the pomp of an evening press conference broadcast nationally on all channels. But it should be at least an hour long, and it should be held soon.

The last formal primetime press conference President Obama held was way back in July. Since that time, Obama has spoken directly to the press only (by my count, searching the White House website) six times -- four of which were joint press availabilities with foreign leaders, mostly on foreign soil. Obama met the press with the leaders of Canada, Japan, and South Korea on separate occasions in other countries. The most recent joint press availability was held in the White House a little over two months ago, with the Indian Prime Minister.

The other two times Obama spoke to the press were in Pittsburgh (at the G20 meeting), back in September, and then in December in Copenhagen. In Pittsburgh, Obama answered five questions during an event that took (including opening remarks) 26 minutes. In Copenhagen, Obama answered seven questions during an event that lasted 23 minutes -- again, including opening remarks. Meaning that since July of last year, Obama has spent less than an hour in front of the press, both times outside the White House.

This is a marked difference from the first half of Obama's first year in office. And it needs to change quickly if Obama truly has a chance of setting the agenda for the upcoming year. Besides, what better way to follow up Friday's appearance before the Republican meeting than by taking on all press inquiries? It would boost Obama's leadership credentials at a time when they sorely need a boost with the public, according to opinion polls.

I would even dare to suggest that Obama give such a press conference, and show he really is interested in "going over the heads of the press to The People" (as Ronald Reagan was famous for doing), by refusing to call on any major network's reporters -- and, instead, give a press conference where the only questions he takes are from smaller press outlets, local press, and bloggers from the Left and Right. [Full Disclosure: I do not have a White House press pass, and therefore am not trying to boost my own chances of asking President Obama a question by suggesting this.]

Actually, if he really wanted to make a splash, Obama could take precisely one question from a "mainstream media" reporter -- from Fox News. After all, what could Fox News throw at him that the Republicans didn't already try last Friday? This would send waves through the big media types (consumed with their own sense of self-importance as they are), and would allow Fox to brag endlessly about their "coup" in the press conference.

But even discarding my fantasy of seeing everyone in the back row called upon, to the chagrin of those in the front row being shut out, it is still nigh on time for Obama to talk to the press a little more regularly than he has done since last summer.

Because press conferences are a big part of the "transparency" which Obama so frequently professes. It's not just about government websites, and releasing facts and figures more often -- it's also about the American people's access to the president through the organ of the free press. OK, that's a little idealistic, I fully admit, but even with the ink-stained wretches we've currently got to work with in the White House press corps, it is still time for Obama to allow the Fourth Estate to confront him.

Obama should, in fact, announce that he will return to a regular schedule of holding press conferences (whether formal or informal -- morning, afternoon, or primetime) at least once a month.

Because while "the narrative" in the media spun wildly out of the White House's (and the Democrats') control in the past six months or so, you can't just blame Republicans or the media for this. Blame also rests with Democrats -- and most importantly, Obama -- for allowing their message to be all but squelched in such a fashion.

Because if you refuse to talk to the press regularly, then you simply don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about what the press is saying about you.

So here's hoping that whatever advisors Obama seems to be currently listening to (who are telling him: "Get out and talk to people!") are truly in the ascendancy in the White House. Here's hoping this is not just a minor political tactic rolled out for the week surrounding Obama's big yearly speech to Congress, but in fact a whole new political strategy from the White House. And the best way to prove that, at this point, is to call a press conference in the next few days. Or even "the next week or two." But not -- as in the recent past -- "twenty minutes or so, every three months."

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

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-- Chris Weigant

 

16 Comments on “Obama Should Hold Press Conference Soon”

  1. [1] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Days after the SOTU you think an immediate press conference is needed?!

    Things that have gone terribly wrong with American politics:

    Politicians campaigning 24/7 instead of performing the offices and responsibilities they were elected to.

    Politicians trying to appease the media to keep them from "turning on them."

    Politicians promoting their own interests, their reelection (or "legacy") instead of governing.

    Politicians promoting special interests instead of the people's interests.

    ...Then again, since all the above are redundant let's just say I think its the job of the press to fill air-time and column inches—not the President's.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    LewDan,

    So, it sounds like you are saying that the vast majority of the electorate are reasonably well informed and just need to see a little action from the president.

    I'm as cynical as the next guy, but the media is not doing its job and so it us up to the president to find new ways of communicating - not spinning - what it is that his administration is doing.

  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    @LewDan
    I'm with you as far as campaigning. It would be nice to see that stop. But I think there's a lot of confusion and it wouldn't hurt Obama to be front and center explaining his policies and what he's fighting for.

    The lobbying industry spent over $500 million making the case against health care. And this drove the debate w/o Obama running point.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/02/AR2010020201997.html

    @Elizabeth
    Agree with you completely that the media is not doing it's job. What seems to happen is that they simply present each sides' talking points and never do much analysis.

    And in the absence of expert analysis, half a billion buys you a lot of influence.

    Cheers
    -David

    p.s. And people wonder why Democrats sometimes have a hard time accomplishing legislation - even when they have a majority. Seems like there's half a billion reasons :)

    Dems never have a hard time accomplishing anything the Chamber of Commerce supports.

  4. [4] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Excellent idea. I see a lot of Obama "borrowing" from Reagan's Presidential style (very different ideology, of course), and like him or not, Ronnie was a very successful President (I'm sure Obama would love to win 525 Electoral College votes in 2012). There are worse role models for a President.

    I actually love your idea of singling out Fox for special attention. After those statements he made about Fox not being a serious journalistic enterprise (I'm not going to debate that here) it would certainly rebut the charge of silencing the freedom of the press that was levelled at him by some.

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LewDan -

    Well, I'm a huge fan of the bully pulpit, when used correctly, so we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I honestly didn't even think this column was going to be that objectionable, but I got an earful over at HuffPost in the comments. So I have to say, you are not alone in your thinking, that's for sure.

    Moderate -

    You are going to enjoy this, and I predict it will cause you to become an absolute "regular" here for a while to come.

    Here's what I had to say about it in February of 2008 -- a little after the primaries had gotten underway.

    This is why I say the last few weeks have been all about "Let Obama Be Obama" -- because for him, it is a return to who he really is, and a clean break from some advisors who obviously were advising him wrongly for about the past 7 or 8 months.

    -CW

  6. [6] 
    Moderate wrote:

    I actually read some of the comments over at Huff Post on this and I think the idea of replicating our Prime Minister's Question Time is actually a very good idea (we often see just how good our PMs are through QT).

    Not so sure that Bush Jnr or Reagan wouldn't have been reelected though. Ron was a great communicator, and even with all the gaffes, so was Bush. How else does a man who campaigned in 2000 on a moderate Republican platform then win an even bigger victory in 2004 on a more right-wing platform? I grant you, though, Bush Jnr was never able to command the support of a large proportion of the left that Reagan managed to win.

    (Felt I should comment here rather than your other post as that was almost two years old and i think it'd aid the discussion more if I post it here)

    As for Obama as the new Reagan, I think you might have a point. I disagree with Obama on almost every policy or position he holds, and yet sometimes he manages to get me to question that stance when he speaks. He says the right things, like his policies on small business as outlined in his SOTU.

    While I may question his follow-through, I find myself unable to dismiss him as "yet another Democrat", it's almost as if he forces you to listen to what he has to say, not where it's coming from. Clinton had a knack of doing it too, but the difference, as you point out in your other piece, is Clinton was also incredibly smart. He was a brilliant politician. As I said in one of my other comments, I consider him my third favourite politician of all time behind Maggie Thatcher and Reagan, and for a man whose political idols are so obviously right-wing to admire a Democrat President says a lot.

    I don't have to agree with Obama to admit he gives a good speech. Of course where you level the claim of Reagan being an empty suit, I'd say that about Obama, but you'd hardly expect me to say otherwise, would you? We'll agree to disagree. Where I definitely do agree with you is that Obama's strength lies in going directly to The People, rather than getting caught up in Washington politicking. That's the big difference in Obama this year compared to last, he seems to have recognised his strengths and realised that last year's failure is a result of trying to play the Washington game (which he's not good at).

    Funnily enough the Washington game is precisely what Clinton was so good at, hence why he got stuff done with a Republican Congress. He was not an Obama or a Reagan when it came to orating (though he was no slouch) but was a very skilled politician and sharp as a tack. A truly excellent President.

    I also agree with the idea that Obama still needs to get better at cracking the jokes that Reagan was so good at. He's so good at arguing his point logically that I think he forgets that most of the electorate have the attention span of goldfish and sometimes those one-liners are just what they need more of.

    This line from his SOTU, for example, was incredibly witty:

    "And if there's one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it's that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal."

    (My way of saying that is the very politically incorrect "About as popular as a Hitler impersonator at a Bar Mitvzah" but there's no way a President can say something like that in a public address and not be vilified)

  7. [7] 
    akadjian wrote:

    @Moderate

    I liked his joke from his talk in Baltimore with Republicans:

    "Now, here’s the point. These are serious times, and what’s required by all of us — Democrats and Republicans — is to do what’s right for our country, even if it’s not always what’s best for our politics. I know it may be heresy to say this, but there are things more important than good polling numbers. And no one can accuse me of not living by my principles."

    If you're interested, here's an interesting article from your side of the pond that speaks to 2 of my favorite books on communication and how Republicans have been so successful:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8474611.stm

    Question Time? Hmm. Not a bad idea.

    -David

  8. [8] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Heh, that's actually priceless. He's right, too, nobody remembers politicians for their polling numbers, but for what they actually got done, good or bad. Nixon is remembered for Watergate, JFK (other than the assassination) for the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, FDR for the New Deal. It's all about history.

  9. [9] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Thanks for the link akad. It's made me at least pause to consider whether my deep-rooted opposition to public healthcare is less based upon facts (at least those from countries where it's been shown to work) and more from my own bad experiences with the abomination that is the NHS. Maybe it's less to do with the concept, and more to do with our poor execution as a country?

    Our taxation system is a mess. For example someone earning $59,000 in the UK pays 40% tax, the equivalent in the US pays 25%. Given the fact that prices in the UK are, on average, higher than most other western countries, it means significantly lower standards of living for the lower-middle class.

  10. [10] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Moderate,

    40% taxation rate does seem quite high. I'm trying to picture it and there would literally be a bloody riot here if our taxes swung suddenly to that level!

    Even if I included the price of healthcare as a tax, I don't think our taxes would be that high. Under an employer plan that is. Now if I had to purchase health insurance as an individual, it might be closer.

    Individual plans here are outrageous. Basically, we have a system here where if you're employed at a large firm, healthy and/or well off, healthcare isn't an issue. The trouble with the "for profit" system is that all of the incentive for the insurance company is to provide as little care as possible and to keep only their healthy constituents.

    You might find this story funny. I used to work for an insurance company who insured professional drivers. And our VP came in one day screaming about trying to find a way to deny fat people coverage or charge them more. Why? Because overweight drivers tend to suffer more injuries from jumping out of truck cabs and also were more likely to get hemorrhoids.

    Ok, maybe that's a bad example. Because I somewhat sympathize with him on that one. (Fortunately, for the overweight, I believe it's against the law.) Scratch this whole last anecdote. This is a fantastic example of how not to use a story to support your argument. .

    Where I was trying to go before I got derailed? If you have a pre-existing condition, good luck trying to find insurance. And this can ruin folks.

    So whether it's a matter of incentivizing the private companies differently, regulating them more, more competition, or some combination, our current system only works for the well off.

    I think almost everyone agrees that there needs to be reform of some kind. There's just not a lot of trust in leaving this to our "for profit" health insurance industry.

    -David

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Moderate -

    It's actually worse than you think. Someone making $59,000 as their salary here probably pays taxes on about $45,000 of it (due to "writeoffs" and "deductions") and even less if they own a home and have a mortgage, or have a family. Which puts them into a lower tax bracket, meaning they probably pay around 15%-20% (on the 45K, not the 59K). So the difference is even more substantial.

    Don't know about Britain, but saw a French income tax form, and there were virtually no deductions at all, so I assume it's similar for you folks.

    Plus, a propos of nothing, the Euro is kicking the dollar's butt, so it's expensive for us to even visit across the pond these days.

    -CW

  12. [12] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Heh, funny story Akad. By the way I also loved this line from the speech to the GOP in Baltimore:

    "Keep your friends close but visit the Republican caucus every few months".

    Incidentally our top rate of tax is 50%, for those earning over $240,000. Not that that's a bad thing; I fully support taxing the extremely wealthy, and I do think $240,000 a year is upper-middle class earning power and should pay higher taxes. But in a country where the average salary is pushing $48,000, $59,000 is squarely in the "middle class" bracket and 40% is too much.

    Actually Chris, most of us pay tax at-source (directly taken out of our salary every payday). It's called PAYE (Pay As You Earn). There are no deductions.

    As for the Euro, we're still clinging onto our pound, and the exchange is far better for you guys now than it was when I came to NY for my bar exam. It was almost a 2:1 ratio back then, 2 dollars for every pound. Good for me, not so good for Americans coming to England (it's now 1.6:1).

    Thing is, many of our prices are, in pounds, what yours are in dollars, for US goods especially. So we end up paying twice as much. For example, if I went to Footlocker in the UK to buy Nike shoes I'd be looking at paying $95. That isn't a maximum either, it's the minimum. Petrol (gas to you folks) costs us, wait for it...over $6 a gallon. If you guys paid that there'd be riots.

    I've actually read a lot about pre-existing conditions and it's definitely a very serious problem. So I know that the system needs reform. I think only those people in the pocket of the insurance companies (a major problem) can even deny the need for reform. It's just how to actually go about it.

    (Incidentally I've long said we in the UK should replicate more of what you've got in the US, so I'd be careful about re-writing the whole system)

    I think Congress should take back the power to regulate healthcare in all 50 states, open the barriers to cross-state trade, end the ridiculous exemption to antitrust laws (no wonder the industry is uncompetitive) and change how the healthcare contribution for one's employer is tax-exempt as follows:

    Employee earns less than $75,000: Completely tax exempt health benefits
    Employee earns $75,000-$125,000: 75% of health benefits tax exempt
    Employee earns $125,000-150,000: 50% of health benefits tax exempt
    Employee earns $150,000-200,000: 25% of health benefits tax exempt
    Employee earns over $200,000: No tax exemption on health benefits

    That way low earners don't lose anything, but higher earners, who can afford to take more of the hit, contribute more. The current tax exemption unfairly benefits higher earners, as, in strict dollar terms, their exemption is worth a lot more than a low earner. That's a regressive tax, which are morally wrong.

    It also shouldn't discourage employers from dropping employer schemes as the higher earners are usually in industries where the company makes loads of money and can afford to lose its tax exemption more than the medium to small businesses can. After all, we need the extra tax revenue to fund...

    A public scheme, open to all people who are uninsured or who have a policy that doesn't cover them for pre-existing conditions. This would directly paid for by taxes, so free-at-source. This could be a voucher scheme based on a set of means-tested criteria. We use a similar scheme in the UK to decide if University students are in need of government subsidy due to their financial situation, and how much subsidy they need. That way those who genuinely need healthcare wouldn't be deprived of it, and would still have choice.

    The key difference, to me, of this over community rating is that instead of a predictably healthy group (the athletic) paying for a predictably unhealthy one (the obese), just because they're healthy, what one contributes to the scheme is directly linked with one's ability to pay. Which is the bedrock of modern taxation systems and largely incontrovertible. Incidentally, if more taxes are needed, tax the profits of healthcare insurers that much more.

    If that doesn't incentivise them to keep their profits at a reasonable level, not the insanely high level it is now, then what will? Besides, I suspect that if the system is made more competitive, rather than the oligopoly it is now thanks to the antitrust exemption and state regulation rather than federal, the cost of premiums would, I think, have to go down with supply and demand.

  13. [13] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Incidentally, Akad, I think What's The Matter with Kansas unfairly adds to a myth that Republicans don't support the poor whereas Democrats do. As a Republican I believe the difference is less over willingness to help the poor, and more over how best to do it (large government vs small government).

    Besides, I think George Orwell had a point in 1984. Political parties traditionally represent the middle class and upper class (I'll leave you to decide which one is which), each using the working class to gain power.

    Anyway, which President got rid of Glass–Steagall? Bill Clinton. Didn't that help the elite (the Wall Street bankers)? One of Clinton's great strengths is that he had the economic sense to recognise that favouring the elite didn't mean disregarding the rest, that the free-market isn't actually evil.

  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    @Moderate

    Your proposals sound quite reasonable. Would have to look into more, but sounds like something I could support.

    The approach I'd like to see is to say, we've got a problem with the current system, people shouldn't go broke. Then, get several independent experts together (including some experts from the insurance industry - not lobbyists mind you, but insurance experts) and come up with a recommendation on how to best incentivize and increase competition.

    Because to be honest, there's a lot I just don't know. Then, pitch this as the plan. I'd be for reforming the private system if all the reforms suggested weren't coming from insurance lobbyists. There's just too much money and too much politics involved. This is part of the reason I fear that some of the reforms currently on the table may not be in the public best interest - for instance, mandating that everyone has to purchase insurance. That's pure concession to the insurance industry.

    I think this is what frustrates everyone. On both sides of the political fence.

    Honestly, I think a couple of folks like us could probably sit down and look at data from all sides and come up w/ something better than is being offered on the table if we took an approach like this. And I'm by no means an expert!

    Good discussion!
    David

    p.s. I noticed in his speech this morning that Obama is once again reading this column. He is stating his belief, very similar to ours, that "No one should go broke paying for medical bills in the richest country on Earth."

  15. [15] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Your point about a couple of folks like us coming up with better solutions than the politicians is one I've held for a long time. Sometimes, not always mind, the whole "game" of politics gets in the way of coming up with good ideas. That's why I think some of these think tanks could do with having a level of direct electorate influence, to strip back some of the politics.

    Whether its lobbyists influence or the desperation to "play it safe" to keep your seat, politicians are sometimes guided by things other than the public good. I do believe politicians, by and large, get into public office, much like President Obama said in his speech to the Democratic caucus (I saw that on TV yesterday, I think it was), because they have values they want to bring to the table to ensure the public good, but somewhere along the way they lose sight of what it is that motivated them to begin with. It's sad, but true.

    And I totally agree, it frustrates people on both sides of the fence. A lot of folk want to be able to just trust the government to do what's right, and in truth, it should be that simple (that's what we bother having elections for) but sadly in practice it doesn't always happen. More's the pity, I feel.

    It's great when folks of differing partisan ideals (you're clearly, as you say on your blog, a card-carrying liberal, and I consider myself a conservative) have healthy debate without a lot of the bad blood that usually happens. Partisan values have their place, but I think there's actually a lot of common ground between the vast majority of people. We all agree murder is wrong. Most of us agree that regressive taxation is wrong. And I think, if framed rightly, we all agree that people should not be going bankrupt to pay medical bills.

  16. [16] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Incidentally the whole reason they're mandating compulsory health insurance is that simply forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions won't work without it. Otherwise healthy people won't buy insurance because if/when something happens, they know the insurer will have to cover them, even for pre-existing conditions. Community rating also requires a mandate.

    It's another reason I don't support community rating or "simple fix" solutions like merely making insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions. It's a problem that needs a long-lasting nuanced solution, not a quick-fix.

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