In the Arena


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Ames, Iowa–Barack Obama turned a little spikey this morning in his first official press conference of the campaign. It started innocently enough–several questions about Iraq: How important was it that he was against the war from the start? Answer: “I think it demonstrates that even at that time it was possible to make judgments that this would not work out well…and that [speaks] to the sort of judgments I might make as president.” Obama wisely refused to get into an assessment of Hillary Clinton’s Iraq position and added that his own plan–combat troops out by March 2008–was the most specific of any Democrat.
Later, though, he allowed himself into drift into a criticism of “a theme out there in the mainstream media” that he emphasized rhetoric at the expense of policy specifics. He said there were plenty of specifics in his books and his Iraq plan, “The substance is out there,” he said, “but that’s not what’s been reported. What’s been reported is how I look in a bathing suit.” Ouch.
Then, at the end of the presser, Obama squatted down next to three student reporters and answered a question about the No Child Left Behind bill. He answered well, in detail and without patronizing the kids. Then he looked up at the rest of us and said, “Take some notes guys. That’s how you do it.”
Huh? Why so prickly?
Well, the answer may have been contained in a seemingly trivial question from Mara Liaison of NPR: Are you still smoking? “Been chewing Nicorette all day.” He said.
(Update: Mara reminds me that she asked a substantive Iraq question–should the U.S. troops take control of Iraq’s borders?–before she asked Obama about smoking.)
For the record, here’s the question I wanted to ask, but wasn’t called upon: Are you in favor of pulling our troops out of the Baghdad civil war now–as Senator Jack Reed and others are–and concentrating on fighting the Sunni extremists in Al Anbar province?
In other words, how do we begin moving toward the redeployment of all combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008?

Update: I should add that in the press conference Obama totally slam-dunked Austrialian Prime Minister John Howard who had criticized Obama’s anti-war position. Obama responded that Australia currently has 1400 troops in Iraq and if Howard feels so strongly about “fighting the good fight” he should “send 20,000 more Australians to fight in Iraq.”
To which I say, amen and hooray for nicotine withdrawal.

And more: From Think Progress:

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol attacked Obama’s Iraq policy, saying he wants to appease terrorists like pro-slavery politician Stephen Douglas tried to appease slave-owners. Kristol said, “Obama’s speech is a ‘can’t we get along’ speech — sort of the opposite of Lincoln. He would have been with Stephen Douglas in 1858.”

Jeez, Bill. Get a grip. This isn’t our civil war. It’s theirs…and we caused it.

And finally: Another Klein heard from. Ezra, constructively critical about Obama.