Commentary Magazine


What Did I Mean?

A debate erupted in the comments section last night off my post declaring the president’s performance last night “brilliant.” Could I have been serious? Surely I was being sarcastic? Even my friend Kyle Smith of the New York Post reacted with incredulity, noting Obama’s propensity to filibuster questions so he would get fewer of them.

Exactly. When assessing a presidential press conference, there are two matters at hand. First, how was he substantively? Second, what was the overall impression–which impression is a combination of theatrics, presentation, eloquence, and the like. How Obama was substantively was…he was Obama, selling the most aggressive left-wing agenda in nearly half a century by acting as though he was just a moderate guy trying to plug some holes in the dike even as he was going to put the country on a new path that, 20 years from now, would lead to some kind of Nirvana. Whether Americans come to swallow his snake oil is the great matter of our time, because if they do, we will be living in a very different country when the next president is inaugurated.

Getting them to swallow it is the point of these press conferences, and that is where the matter of impression comes up. And in this respect, he was unquestionably brilliant. In some ways, more brilliant extemp than in one of his high-flying speeches, because he showed more informality and charm than he does in more formal settings. If you miss this aspect of his presidency–indeed, of any presidency–you are missing a great deal. If you are opposed to him and his agenda, you really do have to take the full measure of your opponent and not just dismiss him because you are allergic to the snake oil.