BEING A PUNDIT VS BEING A PRESIDENT…. One of the more memorable exchanges from this afternoon’s White House press conference came when President Obama called on NBC News’ Chuck Todd, who followed up on earlier questions regarding Iran.
TODD: You have avoided, twice, spelling out consequences. You’ve hinted that there would be from the international community, if they continue to violate — and you said “violate these norms.” You seemed to hint that there — there are human rights violations taking place.
OBAMA: I’m not hinting. I think that when a young woman gets shot on the street when she gets out of her car, that’s a problem.
TODD: Then why won’t you spell out the consequences that the Iranian people…
OBAMA: Because I think that we don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I’m not.
Greg Sargent noted, “Obama and his advisers have repeatedly disparaged the D.C. cable bubble as petty and distracting from the country’s challenges, though the White House happily uses good cable coverage to its advantage on occasion. I guess Obama wants to make it clear that he won’t handle sensitive international crises on cable’s clock, either.”
And that’s definitely a good thing. Todd seemed to be asking, forcefully, that the president address a series of hypotheticals — assume the demonstrations continue, assume the violent crackdown continues, assume Iran makes no concessions to address the concerns of dissidents, and assume an international reaction is being crafted. What, then, is the White House prepared to do?
Except, of course, presidents don’t — and shouldn’t — engage in this kind of speculation publicly. What Todd wants to hear is Obama as a Pundit in Chief, pontificating about possible consequences for possible outcomes, addressing an international situation that’s still unfolding at this very minute. The president knows better, and it was a genuine treat to hear him smack down the entire approach.
It reminded me of something Matt Yglesias said last week: “Something I think people don’t always get is that the President is not the columnist-in-chief or the National Blogger. One of the very nice things about being a professional political pundit, is that you can just sort of spout off what you think and use colorful language and strong, bold words.” Presidents, in contrast, “need to be careful … paying scrupulous attention to consequences.”
Whether his detractors like it or not, Obama is a president, not a pundit, and he doesn’t seem to care much about whether that meets with the chattering class’ approval.