Tuesday, April 30, 2013

C'mon, Take (More) Questions, Barack Obama

Barack Obama holds relatively few press conferences -- and must answer fewer questions when he does than any other president.

At today's press conference he called on six reporters. Granted, some of the questions were two entirely separate parts, but at best it was maybe eight or nine questions.

Here's a press conference from Ronald Reagan in which, if I'm counting correctly, he took 23 questions, although here's a later one in which he took just 9. Counting question is sometimes pretty tricky; here's one with George H.W. Bush, after the tax reversal, with over a dozen separate questions, but lots of follow-ups on top of that. Bill Clinton answered 10 here. And here's one where George W. Bush took 19 question.

Now, if Obama was coming out once a week or more, the way that FDR did, or even regularly twice a month, as the next few presidents did more or less, then half a dozen questions would be fine. But the combination of few press conferences and few questions stinks. And the apparent trade-off -- longer answers -- doesn't really make up for it, in my view.

By the way, I thought the questions were pretty good today. Sure, Jonathan Karl's "do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?" was phrased in a silly way, but of course after a presidential priority is defeated in the Senate, he's going to get that type of question. They covered immigration, the hunger strikes at Gitmo, the Boston bombing, ACA implementation, Syria...all good topics; the only really misstep was a Benghazi question. But no North Korea, no Afghanistan corruption question, no question about any of his blocked nominees (or his failure to nominate anyone for many judicial and executive branch posts), and plenty more.

Anyway, I have no idea whether it's a deliberate strategy to answer as few questions as possible, or he's just naturally long-winded in this context. But while I don't think he's particularly good at the format -- I'd say that Clinton and George H.W. Bush were solidly better, and I suppose I should toss JFK in there too -- he's also not someone that the staff needs to protect from doing it (as was the case with Reagan and George W. Bush). He should find a way to take more questions.

2 comments:

  1. Question: does BHO do more outreach to voter questions than most Presidents, though? I have absolutely no idea, but the Reddit and Google hangout are probably things most presidents didn't do in their 2nd terms. Have 2nd term presidents ever done town halls?

    On a personal note, I actually very much like Obama's PCs. I find him compelling in that medium because he is long-winded.

    He also gave a pretty significant piece of news about Gitmo today. I thought he'd largely sided with the McCain-Graham Gitmo will never close mentality.

    Side note: Good questions, my fanny. Dick Cheney wrote Ed Henry's absurdly worded question about Syria.

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    1. Eh. I don't care about wording on questions as much as topics. Syria is a good topic; once the question is out there, Obama's going to say what he's going to say, regardless of question wording.

      Yes, I think Obama probably does take more direct voter questions in public formats than previous presidents, and certainly pre-Clinton presidents. I'm not against those at all, but I don't think they're a good substitute for what formal presidential press conferences do.

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