The president’s news conference today was reassuring — at least in one regard. That is, the important triumphed over the interesting. I was waiting to see how quickly the news conference would turn to the “Petraeus Affair,” and when the first question was on national security breaches, I prepared for the worst. But the press corps did shift to important topics such as the fiscal cliff, taxes and immigration reform.
Note: My friend Chris Cillizza at The Fix needs to sponsor a “Name That Scandal” contest. “Petraeus Affair” doesn’t do it justice.
Anyway, the president’s news conference, the first he has held in eight months, was mostly about serious issues and his approach to governing. The president did open the news conference with comments already blaming Republicans for the prospect of us going over the fiscal cliff, but he has a right to reference the election results as some evidence of how the American people would like for the government to proceed. Elections do produce winners and losers.
While the president blamed Republicans and even clumsily singled out Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for their criticisms of Ambassador Susan Rice, he did refer a couple times to how he is going to work with Congress. This remains a big challenge for the Obama administration. The president does not have good relationships in Congress on either side of the aisle, and it will be important to watch and determine if this changes. Suddenly being warm, inclusive and patient with Congress will be inconsistent with the history of the cool and aloof president.
Obama has the political advantage right now, and his news conference did nothing to diminish that status. However, his honeymoon is being hijacked by the “Petraeus Affair” (please hurry up with that name, Chris), and there are a couple of underreported problems creeping in that could greatly diminish the president’s post-election glow.
First, the stock market is sinking at the prospects of the policies of a second Obama term, and there are outlier reports that the market could tank. Keep an eye on this.
Second, Israel is on the warpath. Recent bombings in Gaza could escalate into a broader effort and suck all the oxygen out of any new Middle East initiative the president may want to attempt. All presidents are tempted by the prospect of being the peacemaker in the Middle East during the final stretch of their term in office.
So except for the salacious, interesting distractions that will occupy the media for a while and the creeping stock market problem and what that indicates, the president is off to a decent start. However, Obama may soon learn that his public initiatives and premeditated plans for his second term could quickly be taken over by events that are not to his making or liking.
No doubt, the president has a plan. It remains to be seen if this plan is based on his theory of campaigning or if he is really going to get down to the hard work and complicated business of harnessing Washington and governing. Even if the president wants to continue to campaign, his team should remember, as Haley Barbour says, “The best politics is good policy and good government.”