THE WAY IT’S DONE…. It’s possible that I’d just grown accustomed to George W. Bush’s press conferences, marked by rambling filibusters, confused responses, and awkward banter. But watching President Obama last night, I couldn’t help but notice how pleasant it is to have a chief executive who knows what he’s talking about.

Early on, shortly before taking questions, Obama noted, “The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. That’s the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship, and it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead.”

I paused for a moment and thought, did he just say “winter of our hardship“? It was a four-word reminder that we’re dealing with a very different kind of president than we’re used to.

The LA Times noted, “Again and again in his prime-time news conference Monday, Obama painted his GOP adversaries as well beyond the mainstream.” That’s true, and it was welcome. The president spent quite a bit of time promoting the merit of the stimulus package, but he also went on the offensive against those trying to tear it down:

“I’m happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans. What I won’t do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed. And that’s part of what the election in November was all about.”


“Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. You have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And in fact there are several who have suggested that FDR was wrong to intervene back in the New Deal. They’re fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.”

And finally:

“When it comes to how we approach the issue of fiscal responsibility, again, it’s a little hard for me to take criticism from folks, about this recovery package, after they presided over a doubling of the national debt. I’m not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility…. [W]hen I hear people just saying we don’t need to do anything; this is a spending bill, not a stimulus bill, without acknowledging that by definition part of any stimulus package would include spending — that’s the point — then what I get a sense of is that there is some ideological blockage there that needs to be cleared up.”

Perhaps the most telling comment came when the president reflected a bit on strategy:

“Now, just in terms of the historic record here, the Republicans were brought in early and were consulted. And you’ll remember that when we initially introduced our framework, they were pleasantly surprised and complimentary about the tax cuts that were presented in that framework. Those tax cuts are still in there. I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some, and then let them take credit for all of them. And maybe that’s the lesson I learned.”

Maybe so.

Did the press conference make any news? Not really, though it was interesting to see him call on the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein, and then dodge Stein’s question about Bush administration accountability. But overall, it was a reminder of the power of the Bully Pulpit — watching a confident Obama deliver a commanding performance from the East Wing makes every congressional Republican carping about “pork” on Fox News look awfully small.

Matt Cooper added, “For liberals who thought Obama had lost his way, that he’d conceded too much in the name of bipartisanship, that he’d been outflanked by Mitch McConnell, that he’d lost all the momentum, tonight should have been reassuring, a reminder of the power of the presidency to reset the debate and also to the enduring skills of Barack Obama.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.