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Obama and the Punditry: the End of the Affair

The punditry sunk its teeth into President Obama Tuesday after a news conference in which he defended the budget he was sending to the Congress and explained why he was maintaining a middle class tax cut and a hike in taxes for the rich during an economic recession. They were not pleased: “He was tired.” […]

The punditry sunk its teeth into President Obama Tuesday after a news conference in which he defended the budget he was sending to the Congress and explained why he was maintaining a middle class tax cut and a hike in taxes for the rich during an economic recession.

They were not pleased: “He was tired.” “I saw a flash of anger.” “He wanted to go home,” were some of the observations around the table on CNN, and they’re the friendlier ones.

Undoubtedly the pundits are scrutinizing Obama more intensively than I am. Because during the news conference, I found myself still lollygagging with pleasure at the sight of a president answering direct questions with full, grammatically-correct sentences that were germane to the subject at hand.

I must be wrong. But I’m still savoring the fact that – whether or not Obama’s right about everything, and I’m sure he isn’t – what we have at the helm of the country is an individual of calm competence, someone intellectually up to the enormous task before him and who is fully engaged in fixing the mess he inherited.

Sadly, I still remember the previous guy by contrast, who spent his news conferences (when he had them) laughing off the tough stuff, tossing out one-liners his aides lived to regret and joshing with reporters instead of answering their questions.

In a lot of ways, Obama feels like the educator-in-chief. And the press feels it too. They asked very pointed, detailed and sophisticated questions, giving the news conference the feel of graduate students trying to stump their professor.

It is time for tough questions, without a doubt. Any president suggesting an expansion of the federal government of this kind, a widespread adoption of regulations for new institutions, new taxes, reforms wide and deep – ought to face a grilling.

And clearly, lots of pundits think he’s got the wrong idea: Obama wants to expand government spending while reducing the tax basis. Some worry that he is overestimating tax revenues during a recession and won’t have the money to pay for his agenda. And that he will increase the deficit.

I’m not that worried. At least, I’m not worried that if we continue to sink, it will be because of presidential incompetence, or overweening egoism in the Oval Office, or failure to listen to expert advice while spending too much time on a morning jog.

Americans “appreciate an adult conversation about the choices their elected leaders are making on their behalf,” said chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to Larry King, when asked whether Obama was “overexposed.”

Emanuel is exactly right about that.

“I’m a big believer in persistence,” Obama said, in one of his folksier lines that will resonate beyond the news conference. “We can pass health care, find better solutions to the energy challenge, teach our children more effectively, deal with the very real budget crisis.

“If you are persistent, then these problems can be dealt with. That whole philosophy of persistence is one I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I’m in this office.”

Persistence, as opposed to stubborn indifference. Yeah. Let’s try that for a while.