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Inside Obama's news conference: How and why he said what he said

June 24, 2009 |  1:36 am
Democrat president Barack Obama at a White House news conference 6-23-09

Did you watch President Obama's news conference Tuesday? Oh, wait, that's right. You were among the thousands following the live-blogging here on The Ticket.

Even if you did see his news conference on TV or somewhere, take a look at this video here. At least the first few minutes, through his introductory remarks.

See if you notice anything different this time. We'll tell you what it is later on.

To change the subject from "Why won't the president speak out strongly against the brutality in Iran?" the president held his fourth White House news conference, originally scheduled for the Rose Garden, but it was too muggy and might have rained on the president's remarks and what a terrible metaphor that would have created for snarky bloggers to chew on for days.

So they moved the Q&A indoors. Not to the usual, more formal East Room, but to the media briefing room where the White House press corps sits every day, each in their familiar assigned seats, like athletes by their very own lockers. Home field for the media. And its members got a little testy with the chief executive. And he got a little annoyed at them. (See the smoking and McCain responses.)

Predictably, the president started off with Iran. (Full transcript is here.) Although....

...for expediency reasons, Obama said he's been saying the same thing all along, including in a printed statement last Saturday, the reality is his Tuesday remarks were noticeably stronger than before.

He delivered them powerfully, with feeling, with conviction -- "appalled and outraged," "strongly condemn these unjust actions," "mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."

He wants to protect his verbal outreach to the Tehran regime (and hence, did not rescind the open invitation to all Iranian diplomats to join July 4th parties at U.S. embassies around the world). But Obama must also protect his flank at home from appearing soft on governments that shoot defenseless protesters with impunity, even as Americans prepare to celebrate their own fragile revolution long ago.

His opening statement (simultaneously translated into Persian and Arabic on the White House website) accomplished that, for now, anyway. And they give the president's Democratic surrogates stronger words to recite elsewhere in his defense.

Foreign affairs are a messy business. It's hard to explain diplomatic nuances to inattentive Americans and media just looking for conflict, hypocrisy and inconsistencies. So the president quickly steered the news session to what he really wants to talk about these days: healthcare reform, which polls indicate some more people are getting a little dubious over.

You'll hear much more about such reform during tonight's hour-long White House healthcare infomercial on ABC. If the healthcare debate is about changing it or not, Obama's dream agenda will probably end up in the congressional ICU. Because polls indicate about 70% of Americans like the plan they've got. See little reason to change. Even if millions of others don't have any.

But if the president can shape the debate that drastic healthcare changes are inevitable because costs are out of control and you might lose what you think you have currently so let's change it my way now, then he has a chance of winning by fall.

His problem is describing it convincingly to the American public before he's negotiated what it will actually be with Congress, which has its own really good healthcare plan but still wants to reform everybody else's.

Democrat president Barack Obama leaves a White House news conference 6-23-09

So Obama was rather vague in his remarks. He said any plan must control costs. And he favors (but wouldn't say if it's negotiable) a government option, which he says would be cheaper (because of government subsidies) and would help keep private, for-profit companies honest. It's not government healthcare, he says.

He also says anyone can keep their existing insurance plan. But he didn't explain why, faced with a cheap government option, cost-cutting employers wouldn't simply opt out and leave millions to fall into the government plan that they thought they could choose to avoid.

How well he makes that argument in coming weeks -- starting this evening -- will play a major role in determining the success of his showcase priority for 2009.

Now, to answer the question posed at the start: What you may have noticed is: No Obama Teleprompter this time.

He read casually from notes on the briefing room lectern. Sometimes they'll contain just a collection of suggested phrases for the speaker to shape into his own extemporaneous sentences.

Small thing. But anyone who's ever used a Teleprompter knows it takes intense concentration to follow the moving script and its directions (Pause here for laughter) with appropriate pronunciations (Oh-BAMA) and inflections.

Obama's very good at it. During the campaign he even used one in the dirt of a rodeo arena. But the Teleprompter concentration sucks out much of the words' emotions. Fine in a policy address. But if you're talking sympathetically about a young, instantly iconic woman bleeding to death on a Tehran street, you don't want America noticing anything that smacks of insincere recitation.

From such small unnoticed tweaks in presidential presentations come more positive public impressions. They all add up.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press; Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images