PASSING A SILLY MEDIA TEST…. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve become so accustomed to the inane chatter of talking heads that, while watching President Obama in the Rose Garden yesterday, it actually occurred to me to think, “What will the pundits complain about this time?”
After all, the recent chatter has been disparaging. The president held a White House conference, which was panned for reasons related to “emoting.” Obama delivered an Oval Office address, which was panned for, in Chris Matthews’ words, lacking a “sense” of “executive command.”
What kind of complaining would we hear in response to yesterday’s remarks about a change in military command in Afghanistan? Apparently, there isn’t much — the president seems to have satisfied the media’s expectations. Here’s Dana Milbank, for example, who often captures (shapes?) the media establishment’s conventional wisdom.
It was 95 degrees in the Rose Garden. Reporters dripped with sweat. Vice President Biden’s brow glistened. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s face was pink and Gen. David Petraeus’s was red.
But the sight before them was rare enough to be worth the suffering: The commander in chief was being commanding.
Without benefit of his favorite transitional object — the teleprompter malfunctioned at the start of his remarks — Obama stood, preternaturally cool and dry, on the steps leading to the Oval Office and delivered some of the most forceful words of his presidency. […]
For those craving strong presidential leadership, it was reassuring to hear unequivocal words such as “certainty” and “won’t tolerate” on Obama’s lips — and even more reassuring that he was acting on those sentiments. The president, too often passive in the face of challenges to his authority, correctly recognized that McChrystal’s insults to him and his advisers threatened to weaken his administration. For 36 hours, he flirted with a Carter-esque response — expressing anger in words but not deeds — before finally taking decisive action.
Slate‘s John Dickerson said the McChrystal affair was “a test — more of a pop quiz, really — of Obama’s leadership skills” and the president “aced it.” Obama, Dickerson added, “was resolute and commanding.” [Update: To clarify, the Dickerson piece dealt only briefly with style-related issues, and was almost entirely about the substance of the Rose Garden remarks and the larger McChrystal decision.]
Time‘s Michael Crowley added, “The change of generals was the firm action of a hands-on executive. And a self-confident one, too.”
Even Josh Marshall, who’d said earlier in the day that he was surprised Obama “had it in him,” wrote last night, “When I woke up this morning I still couldn’t quite see how President Obama could not fire McChrystal. But I also couldn’t quite imagine him doing it. But he did. Showed me a different side of him. And what I really couldn’t have imagined was that he found a way not just to acquit himself honorably and protect the office but actually enhance his prestige and standing.”
The president doesn’t seem to care much about media reactions when weighing major decisions, but I suspect many in the West Wing, who’ve no doubt grown tired of un-passable media tests, will be pleased that observers are finally satisfied with a presidential appearance, at least for now.
Postscript: The NYT has a fascinating tick-tock, by the way, on what led to McChrystal being relieved of command.