60 days in office,Obama changes tone

For just under an hour on Tuesday night,Americans saw not the fiery and inspirational speaker who riveted the nation in his address to the Congress last month...

Written by New York Times | Washington | Published: March 26, 2009 12:35 am

For just under an hour on Tuesday night,Americans saw not the fiery and inspirational speaker who riveted the nation in his address to the Congress last month,or the conversational President who warmly engaged Americans in talks,or even the jaunty and jokey President who turned up on Jay Leno.

In his second prime-time news conference from the White House,it was Barack Obama the lecturer. Placid and unsmiling,he was the professor-in-chief,offering familiar arguments in long paragraphs,sounding like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom.

The session in the East Room came at a volatile moment for the new President as he sought to quell Democratic misgivings about his ambitious economic agenda and deflect strong Republican opposition. He tried to reassure the nation that he could solve the crisis that has gripped the economy.

“We’re beginning to see signs of progress,” he said,calling for a “renewed confidence that a better day will come”.

As balky senators from his own party began carving some of the signature proposals out of his budget,Obama signaled that he could compromise in the short term on a middle-class tax cut and a cap on carbon emissions. But he indicated that he would stand firm on four top priorities,insisting that the Congress make progress in those areas.

“We never expected when we printed out our budget that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it,” Obama said,expressing flexibility about the details as long as his central goals were met. “The bottom line is that I want to see healthcare,energy,education and serious efforts to reduce our budget deficit.”

He defended his record $3.6 trillion budget and long term deficits it will create,urging Americans to be patient as it would be a slow road to economic recovery.

At a time of anger and anxiety in the country,Obama showed little emotion. He rarely cracked a joke or raised his voice. Even when he declared himself upset over the $165 million in bonuses paid this month by AIG despite its taxpayer bailout,his voice sounded calm and unbothered. “I’m as angry as anybody about those bonuses,” he said,adding that executives needed to learn that “enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable”.

To a certain extent,Obama’s demeanor could have been calculated — an effort,aides said,to lower the temperature after a supercharged week and nudge the country toward what Obama considers the more pressing issues of fixing the banking system and reviving the economy.

Even on one of the most polarising subjects in American life,race relations,Obama deviated little from the median. Asked about his impact as the first African-American President,he said the nation experienced “justifiable pride” at his inauguration.”But that lasted about a day,” he said,in perhaps his only joke of the night. “Right now the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged … are we taking the steps to improve liquidity in the financial markets,create jobs,get businesses to reopen,keep America safe?”

He signaled that the new conservative Government in Israel could make achieving a peace deal more difficult. He expressed patience about dealing with Iran and defended his proposal to increase the tax burden on the wealthy.

“He doesn’t seem to emote any real urgency or anger,” said Matthew Dowd,a former Republican strategist who has often been complimentary of the new President. “So at times it comes across as a bit distant and intellectual.”

Joe Trippi,a Democratic consultant,said: “He said all the right things. But sometimes his confidence makes him seem flat.”

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