Analysis Of Obama's News Conference
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Joining us now to talk about what we've heard this evening, what we heard earlier in the president's press conference, news conference, are a very familiar voice, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, who's in the studio, and joining us from New York, Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal. Welcome to the program to both of you.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post, Brookings Institute): Thank you.
SIEGEL: Ms. Rabinowitz first: your reactions to the news conference tonight.
Ms. DOROTHY RABINOWITZ (The Wall Street Journal): Well, I thought that there were many moments in it that were a lot sexier than you would think. It's very hard to make something about the budget seem sexy. But there were occasionally dramatic moments. But I think the most dramatic is the aura of utter control that is now visited on these press conferences by having these preselected questions.
You remember the old Wild West atmosphere - hands raised, noise? It sounded chaotic. There was an absolute air of freedom and naturalness.
SIEGEL: This was a Con Law class, directed by the president almost, it seemed.
Ms. RABINOWITZ: Yes, yes. I mean there is a certain - if you know in advance who is going to be the speaker, you can anticipate in some measure the nature of the questions. And that sat very damply on the atmosphere. But aside from all of that, I thought the president had one very nice moment when he said - he spoke about race and he said, this is the moment. They had one day in which to recognize the great travails - you know, racism - and then it was back to normal. And, you know, one felt a sense of his honesty and straightforwardness about this. And now I'm being judged, as I should. But I thought that there were several evasions, one of which is on the charity.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. On the tax break.
Ms. RABINOWITZ: Yes. And it's very strange to hear the - you know, this logic -however, you know, logical it may seem - that a bus driver who gives money to a charity should be taxed the same as somebody who can contribute hugely. The effect on charity of a bus driver's money is simply not going to be - you know, it's going to be zilch. And you know that somebody who routinely gives $500,000, that makes the difference to a charity.
SIEGEL: Well, let's hear from our - from E.J. Dionne. E.J., your reactions to the news conference.
Mr. DIONNE: Well, first of all, I want to get to the charity business. But repeat after me: health care, energy, education - health care, energy, education. I mean, he pounded away at that.
SIEGEL: You could ask about the Middle East, and you'd get to that.
Mr. DIONNE: Right. And I'd still say health care, energy and education. That's what - that's the message he was driving home. I thought what was fascinating is, we've returned to the routinization of news conferences, I think, as a regular medium of communication by the president. He didn't use this news conference to make any big announcement. He used it to advance a series of arguments. And I think that what you heard were the sort of slogans of the Obama era. The Republicans used to talk about malaise days, and tax and spend.
Tonight, you heard the past being borrow and spend, and we want to move to save and invest. The old economy was bubble and bust. And I think he's trying to sort of create a new narrative of American politics, and he also defended public action. We are - and government action. We're so accustomed to hearing presidents, even when they propose to use government, not to really admit they're using government. I think that was very clear. I was really struck by his willingness to defend the decision to put a cap of 28 percent on that charitable deduction. Again, it's very rare we've seen a president come out and defend a tax increase. Now as Senator Grassley said earlier, it is only a tax increase on the top 5 percent. But he gave a long and rather detailed defense of raising taxes. That's something quite new.
SIEGEL: Let's just note that the questions that - the subjects that were not raised at all by the White House Press Corps in this news conference included Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. The questions that weren't about the economy - one dealt with the Middle East, one dealt with race, one dealt with Mexico. So there's no doubt about what's on the minds of the White House reporters.
Ms. RABINOWITZ: But he raised Iran.
SIEGEL: He brought Iran. That's right. Obviously, he wanted to have a question about that.
Ms. RABINOWITZ: But he raised it and obfuscated, and failed to mention the single most important fact about that exchange: We went hat in hand - in the voice of the president - to Iran and Iran said, what? It bluntly and rudely refused. That, he omitted to say. He omitted to say that Iran simply came very close to insulting us, and simply turned back our faintly obsequious request for contact.
SIEGEL: It should be noted, he said he's persistent, though. He's going to...
Ms. RABINOWITZ: Yes. That was his point, but he evaded it. He said, well, they - what he did - turn that question around and say, well, of course, they're saying that Iran didn't quickly agree not to have nuclear weapons. That ain't what happened.
SIEGEL: Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, thanks to both of you for talking with us.
Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.
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