Must See TV

MUST SEE TV…. As promised, President Obama appeared this afternoon at the House Republican caucus’ retreat in Baltimore, delivering a short speech, followed by some fascinating Q&A. If you missed it — the appearance was aired live on C-SPAN — you’ll really want to watch it when the video is posted online. It was simply fascinating.

During his speech, Obama went over themes from his State of the Union address this past Wednesday. At once, he simultaneously said that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on issues such as a spending freeze and tax credits for small business, but he also went after the GOP for voting against the stimulus bill while attending ribbon-cuttings for projects in their districts, challenged them to work together on important issues, and called upon them to support his proposed fees on the bailed-out financial sector.

Then came the really interesting part. Obama began taking questions from Republican members of Congress, a sight that isn’t normally seen on television in American politics.

There were some similarities to the British Parliamentary tradition of Prime Minister’s Question Time — minus the cheering and booing — with a sense of political jousting between an incumbent president and the opposition, who for their part pitched one tough question after another.

I’m reasonably certain I’ve never seen anything like it. GOP House members were fairly respectful of the president, but pressed him on a variety of policy matters. The president didn’t just respond effectively, he delivered a rather powerful, masterful performance.

It was like watching a town-hall forum where all of the questions were confrontational, but Obama nevertheless just ran circles around these guys. I can only assume caucus members, by the end of the Q&A, asked themselves, “Whose bright idea was it to invite the president and let him embarrass us on national television?”

Note, however, that this wasn’t just about political theater — it was an important back-and-forth between the president and his most forceful political detractors. They were bringing up routine far-right talking points that, most of the time, simply get repeated in the media unanswered. But in Baltimore, the president didn’t just respond to the nonsense, he effectively debunked it.

Republicans thought they were throwing their toughest pitches, and Obama — with no notes, no teleprompter, and no foreknowledge — just kept knocking ’em out of the park.

It’s easy to forget sometimes just how knowledgeable and thoughtful Obama can be on matters of substance. I don’t imagine the House Republican caucus will forget anytime soon — if the president is going to use their invitation to score big victories, he probably won’t be invited back next year.

Nevertheless, the White House should schedule more of these. A lot more of these.

Update: Marc Ambinder noted, “Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months….I have not seen a better and perhaps more productive political discussion in this country in…a long time.”

Second Update: Here’s the video.

Third Update: And here’s the transcript.

Fourth Update: The C-SPAN server appears to be having some trouble. Here’s the video of the Q&A portion, from MSNBC:

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