Obama's press conference showed that the time for political negotiations has passed.
On the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he praised his predecessor for promoting tolerance. "One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was, after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam." In his first defense of religious tolerance he referred to his Christian faith (for any who might still be confused) and warned, "We have to make sure that we don't start turning on each other." In the second he talked about Muslims in America. "I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They're out there putting their lives on the line for us, and we've got to make sure that we are crystal clear, for our sakes and their sakes—they are Americans, and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don't differentiate between them and us. It's just us."
This was the president's first news conference since May, and there probably won't be another until after the election. Between now and then, he promised, he would push the economic message about returning to Republican policies. Whether he can do anything to change his party's fate when the country's economic mood is so dark is a mystery. In the end, the president, who is sometimes called the most powerful person in the world, may be the hostage.