Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Barack Obama's Last Press Conference

I listened to President Obama's last press conference today, and I was suffused with melancholy... this is the last time we will hear an articulate, calm, and competent American executive speak for the foreseeable future. I'm going to miss hearing an educated person speaking in multisyllable words as if he were talking to adults. I going to miss it Big League. The president threw down a gauntlet to the press, which they will hopefully take to heart:

That does not of course mean that I’ve enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that’s the point of this relationship. You’re not supposed to by sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics, you’re supposed to ask me tough questions. You’re not supposed to be complimentary, but you’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here. And you have done that. And you have done it for the most part in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I didn’t always agree with your conclusions. And having you in this building has made this place work better, it keeps us honest, it makes us work harder, you’ve made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we’re able to deliver on what’s been requested by our constituents. And, for example, every time you’ve asked “why haven’t you cured Ebola yet?” or “Why is there still that hole in the gulf?” it has given me the ability to go back to my team and say “will you get this solved before the next press conference?”
I’ve spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. IT goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment in self-government has to work. It doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive information about what is taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and democracy needs you. We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. So my hope is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves. And to push this country to be the best version of itself. I have no doubt that you will do so. I’m looking forward to being an active consumer of your work, rather than always the subject of it. I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy, and with that I will take some questions.

The preamble to the press conference can be summed up as: "Do your jobs!" President Obama gave some subtle digs at Trump for planning to move the press corps out of the White House, and challenged the press to play the necessary role of check on political power. In his inimitable 'no drama' way, he lectured the assembled press corp to push back against the 'fake news' that has so tainted this political cycle.

As a nerd-American, I am going to miss this intellectual president. While he wasn't the 'liberal messiah' that his detractors believed his supporters believed he was, he was measured and prudent... something to be cherished after the unabashed, irresponsible adventurism and kleptocracy of his predecessor, seemingly ramped up to eleven by his successor. President Obama's tenure in the White House was unmarred by scandal, free of major blunders- all in the face of Republican hostility and intransigence. If he had had a loyal opposition, one which hadn't attempted to sabotage his every accomplishment, I imagine he could have achieved truly great things.

At the very least, I will remember the past eight years as a dreamtime during which a president could string together coherent sentences, a near-decade of sagacity sandwiched between the misrules of C-plus Augustus and Pee-plus Augustus. Le sigh...

1 comment:

mikey said...

You touch on a very important point in this piece. No, Obama wasn't the far-left liberal 'democratic socialist' that the BernieBros all wanted him to be. He's a center-left technocrat, and there's an important reason for that. He's just about as far to the left as anybody could be and still be elected president. (Actually, I'm certain he was MUCH more liberal than the perception, but he knew he had to GOVERN more from the center.)

So now there's all this hue and cry that the Democrats need to change their policies and messaging in order to gain back their inherent demographic advantage. But actually, all Democrats really need is for their natural broad politically liberal constituency to behave rationally, and vote as a bloc. The extreme right in America thinks their candidates are, generally, too moderate, but they vote for them anyway. Once the American Political Left decides to be realistic and clear-eyed about the ideological compromises they will have to accept from national Democratic leadership, the problem will mostly be solved...