Let’s be honest with each other here: Presidential press conferences are usually news voids into which a lot of ink and chatter are dumped.
But Obama’s press conference this afternoon will be seen as a turning point if not in his Presidency then in how we understand and perceive him and his approach to politics. I say that keenly aware of the press’ tendency to see itself at the center of the story and of TV’s tendency to view history as a series of moments caught on camera. So I’m having to overcome a lot of my built-in skepticism about over-reading these kinds of pseudo-events.
What we saw and what I think we’ll see borne out by subsequent events is Obama revealing in a very public way the choice he has made between the two political personas he has simultaneously inhabited throughout his candidacy and his presidency. He has tried to be both pragmatist and progressive savior. And even when he stopped trying to be the savior after he was elected, he was at a certain level content to let supporters continue to project that persona on to him.
Today, he very clearly and loudly said: that savior persona is not me. I am the pragmatist. And you know what, I don’t have a whole lot of patience for the idealists. I share their ideals, but I don’t share their approach and I’m not going to get bogged down in recriminations over not living up to some abstract ideal.
I don’t think this a change in the fundamental truth of who he is or of what his politics are, but with today’s press conference the pretense that he might yet be someone else was finally dropped. Not only was he announcing that this is who I am, but he was also effectively declaring, I am not that other guy. (You can watch the key part of the presser here.)
That’s a significant change in his personal narrative and as I say a change I suspect in the public narrative of his presidency going forward.