Out: Seances. In: Mutts.
As the time grew nearer for Barack Obama's first news conference as president-elect yesterday, aides announced that the start would be delayed by 10 to 15 minutes. Then they announced a five-minute delay. Then another. Finally, the next president finally sauntered onto the stage, a fashionable 23 minutes late.
After eight years of on-time news conferences by President Bush, the nation now has tangible proof: The Democrats are back in charge.
There were other signs of change, too, some refreshing, some less so.
The president-elect, tickled that reporters stood when he entered the room for the first time, forgot the standard "Please be seated."
When asked whether he had conferred with any living ex-presidents, he seemed to dis Ronald Reagan's ailing widow. "I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances," he said. (He later called her to apologize.) Even more alarming for those steeped in the protocol of the Beltway, Obama, in Chicago, called on representatives of both local newspapers but -- horrors -- didn't call on The Washington Post.
But aside from those stylistic breaks from his predecessor, the agent of change was a study in caution.
He wore a Bush-blue tie. Over his shoulder loomed Jimmy Carter's Fed chairman. And when he opened his mouth to speak, the first word that came out after "Thank you very much" was: "Uhhhh." (Pause.)
Timing of an economic stimulus? "I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later."
How he would respond to a letter from the Iranian president? "I think we've got to think it through."
His presidential appointments? "I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasize 'deliberate' as well as 'haste.' "
Even a question about what breed of dog his family would choose as a pet provoked a cagey reply: "Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic; there are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."
If Obama's first moves are an indication, he plans not so much a break with the past as a restoration of Democratic mandarins. Among those standing behind him yesterday were many of Bill Clinton's Cabinet officers and top aides: Bill Daley, Bob Reich, Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel, Bob Rubin and Laura Tyson.