Just watched Robert Gibbs’ first press conference–and yeeesh, it was ugly. A good part of this was the W.H. press corps perpetual, institutional instinct for the capillaries: a whole bunch of time wasted on Obama’s retaking the oath of office; a whole bunch of questions looking for the bottom line on tangled policy issues that won’t be resolved for months–the final status of the Guantanamo detainees, the pace of withdrawal from Iraq. A lot of it was first-day, tough-guy posturing on the part of a press corps that has been accused of being in the tank to Obama.
That said, there has been a casual, slightly confused quality to these first hours of the Obama Administration. The executive order on torture needed to be accompanied by a strong, firm statement on the part of the President, making clear that the Army Field Manual is the operating standard now, and that the deviations from that standard in the last Administration were reprehensible.
Also needed was some clearer guidance on the economy. I know the Economic Team is working through the regime for the implementation of the next $350 billion of the bank bailout–but with the banking system teetering, and home foreclosures mounting, there was a need for a clear statement of defining principles–a headline, a soundbite, something for the worried people of the country to talk about at dinner tonight. Ditto for the stimulus package.
I know Obama has done much of this over the past few weeks, but he’s President now and he needs to reaffirm his principles and tell the American people what is going to happen next. True, a lot of this is packaging. But it would help Gibbs’ life and reputation immensely if the next time he appears before the press he could say, “Here is what we’re doing…” rather than “We’re studying that.”