Obama has long said that if people are happy with their current health insurance, nothing will change—thus making the profound reform he advocates seem less threatening. He clarified this during the press conference: What he meant, he said, was that the government would not actively change your plan. Your plan may well change under his reforms, he suggested, but he argued that this would happen anyway—even if nothing was done. This led into his larger health care pitch, that the current system is unsustainable: "Unless we fix what's broken in our current system, everyone's health care will be in jeopardy.
For fans of a public insurance option, the president offered partial hope. He said he wants a public plan and made the case for it on the merits, arguing that such an option would provide competition that would lower costs and expand coverage. It was a legitimate defense, but he refused to say he would veto any bill that lacked a public option. (That may well turn out to be smart tactical flexibility, not a sign of a weakened position.)
At one point in the back-and-forth with reporters over Iran, the president said, "I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. OK?" It was a good line. He has used a version of it in a previous press conference. But while the president doesn't like the demands of the news cycle, he knows just how to feed it. When outrage over AIG bonuses gripped the news cycle, he appeared before cameras to channel it. When Sonia Sotomayor's remarks about being a "wise Latina" caused controversy, Obama and his team knew it was better to say she misspoke than to keep arguing that she'd been taken out of context. During his campaign, Obama scrapped his opposition to wearing a flag pin for the same reasons. By modifying his position or habits a little, Obama feeds the news beast and the overheated controversy goes away.
In some ways the president is the 24-hour news cycle. He's everywhere—cable, sports channels, and late-night talk shows. He'll be on ABC tomorrow talking about health care. At the press conference he showed just how attuned he is to the rapacious news environment. He called on the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, who has been following the Iran story closely, and asked him to relay one of the questions he'd gotten from one of the Iranian protesters. * The White House had called Pitney that morning to invite him over to ask the question, an act of stagecraft for which the previous president would have been excoriated by his critics.
Obama sparred and joked with the press in a commanding performance that should once and for all quiet the oddly persistent jibes about his use of a teleprompter. He grew irritated at times with the constant Iran questioning, but he was particularly bothered in response to a question about his smoking habits. He appeared beleaguered at having to answer a "human interest" question but then did so rather completely, admitting that he's 95 percent cured but has occasional lapses. He sparred with ABC's Jake Tapper over health care but made it clear he was listening carefully and even enjoying the back-and-forth. "You're pitching, and I'm catching," said the president. He did not, in this case, claim that he could do both.
Watch video of President Obama's June 23 news conference.
Correction, June 24, 2009: This article orginally misspelled Nico Pitney's name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)