Obama is getting the hang of this gig

OBAMA IS GETTING THE HANG OF THIS GIG…. Perhaps the most memorable moment of last night’s White House press conference was the president’s last answer. The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Weisman noted, “You are currently the chief shareholder of a couple of very large mortgage giants. You are about to become the chief shareholder of a car company, probably two. I’m wondering, what kind of shareholder are you going to be?” Obama responded:

“Well, I think our first role should be shareholders that are looking to get out. You know, I don’t want to run auto companies. I don’t want to run banks. I’ve got two wars I’ve got to run already. I’ve got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we’re going to be….

“I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy, you know, meddling in the private sector. If you could tell me right now that when I walked into this office, that the banks were humming; the auto were selling; and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran and a pandemic flu, I would take that deal.

“And that’s why I’m always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of ‘Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.’ No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that’s not the hand that’s been dealt us.”

I’ve seen some who’ve described this as a presidential “gripe.” That’s missing the point. Obama was responding to a question premised on the notion of expanded government power. The president wasn’t complaining; he was describing what was already on his plate. In other words, this wasn’t “woe is me”; this was “why on earth would anyone think I’d want to take over non-governmental enterprises right now?”

Obama’s answer drew some laughter in the room, and it was that kind of event. The president, despite all the pressing crises, seemed … loose. His reputation for being almost preternaturally calm is well-deserved. Obama’s only been in office for 100 days, but he demonstrated last night that he’s very much in command — confident, knowledgeable, at times even reassuring.

David Gergen, a Republican pundit, said last night, “I thought in terms of mastery of issues, we’ve rarely had a president who is as well briefed and who speaks in articulate a way as this President does. He’s nuanced, he’s very complete, he’s up to speed on the issues.”

Note to the right: now would probably be a good time to give up on the whole “teleprompter” talking point.

I won’t even try to recap the whole thing; if you missed it, the transcript is online. I’d note, however, that Obama’s comments on torture were very interesting; his response to a good question about the state-secret privilege was important but largely unsatisfying; and the president tipped his hand a bit on health care — in a good way.

But it was Jeff Zeleny’s question that will probably generate the most attention: “During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?”

Obama literally wrote down the question, so as to not miss anything, and went one by one. I found the question rather silly, but the president’s responses were quite compelling.

By the time he got to troubled, Obama said, “I’d say less troubled but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we’re in the middle of really big crises. I would like to think that everybody would say, ‘You know what, let’s take a timeout on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year, and then we can start running for something next year.’ And that hasn’t happened as much as I would have liked.”

Congressional Republicans? I think he’s talking to you.