As the Times Turns: Obama "More Enervating Than Energizing"

Does it qualify as newsworthy that the Times didn't actually fawn over Barack Obama's hour-long prime-time press conference on Tuesday night? Wednesday's lead story by Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney, "Obama Tries to Rally Nation To His Agenda" claimed Obama's professorial tone was "more enervating than energizing" and suggested his agenda was in danger of being compromised by rebellion in his own party.

For just under an hour on Tuesday night, Americans saw not the fiery and inspirational speaker who riveted the nation in his address to Congress last month, or the conversational president who warmly engaged Americans in talks across the country, or even the jaunty and jokey president who turned up on Jay Leno.

Instead, in his second prime-time news conference from the White House, it was Barack Obama the lecturer, a familiar character from early in the campaign. Placid and unsmiling, he was the professor in chief, offering familiar arguments in long paragraphs - often introduced with the phrase, "as I said before" - sounding like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom where students are restlessly waiting for the ring of the bell.

Baker and Nagourney implied a disconnect between Obama's tone and his words:

At a time of anger and anxiety in the country, Mr. Obama showed little emotion. He rarely cracked a joke or raised his voice. Even when he declared himself upset over the $165 million in bonuses paid this month by the American International Group despite its taxpayer bailout, his voice sounded calm and unbothered. "I'm as angry as anybody about those bonuses," he said, adding that executives needed to learn that "enriching themselves on the taxpayers' dime is inexcusable."


This was Mr. Obama as more enervating than energizing, a reminder of the way he could be in his early days as a presidential candidate, before he became defined by rapturous crowds.

"He doesn't seem to emote any real urgency or anger," said Matthew Dowd, a former Republican strategist who has often been complimentary of the new president. "So at times it comes across as a bit distant and intellectual."

Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant, said: "He said all the right things. But sometimes his confidence makes him seem flat."

Near the end, Baker and Nagourney asserted:

Throughout his time in public life, Mr. Obama has confronted questions about whether he was too detached, too analytical, too intellectual. In the campaign, he was as likely to be compared to Adlai E. Stevenson as he was to John F. Kennedy. And if there is a pattern to Mr. Obama, it is to lumber through periods like this and then become intense and animated at the first sign of trouble.

Actually, during the campaign the Times skipped those two squaresand went straight to comparing Obama to Abraham Lincoln. Still, it's nice to see the Times at least temporarily drop its reverent tone and subjectthe presidentto a little scrutiny.