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White House's Gibbs has mastered art of speaking with his hand

"But you might tomorrow?"

"There's always hope," Gibbs said, using a favorite Obama campaign word.

"Audacious," interjected CBS News's Mark Knoller, using another.

Gibbs acts as though he's playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It's no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

This is the most visible manifestation of a larger problem the Obama White House has. Many Obama loyalists from the 2008 race still seem, after a year on the job, to be having trouble exiting campaign mode. They sometimes appear to be running a taxpayer-funded rapid-response operation.

At Tuesday's briefing, Gibbs looked down and shuffled his papers as the Associated Press's Jennifer Loven began with two questions about the White House's role in the Massachusetts race. Gibbs gave her two dismissive waves of the hand and told her to wait for "the outcome of the election, which, as many people know, is ongoing."

The correspondent for Reuters asked two more Massachusetts questions. Gibbs treated him to two more dismissive waves. "We will schedule a briefing, not unlike this, at approximately the same time tomorrow," the spokesman said.

The line of questioning continued, and the press secretary assured his audience that "these are going to be all great questions tomorrow." "So you'll answer them tomorrow?" asked The Post's Mike Shear.

"I promise I'll be here tomorrow," Gibbs proposed.

Contrast the glib Gibbs gibes with a press briefing on the same topic a few hours earlier by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

"I don't need the Massachusetts race to tell me the psyche of the American people," the Maryland Democrat said. "People are angry, people are fearful. . . . Probably none of us in the room knew how deep the recession that confronted us was." He acknowledged that the Democrats' agenda "has not affected . . . change as quickly as all of us would like." He admitted that "we're all pretty unpopular." He assured the reporters that "I get it."

Gibbs didn't quite get it, though, as CBS's Chip Reid joked that he would try a question on "a different topic: the election in Massachusetts."


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