The money line that’s being picked up by news outlets and touted on Twitter is, “an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.” But what does “now” mean? Didn’t Mubarak already begin the transition process today by agreeing not to run again in the fall? Didn’t he do precisely what Obama asked him to do, in fact? To listen to this, you’d think the White House was somehow displeased by his recalcitrance even though he’s following the advice they’ve given him. But then that’s the game we’re playing right now, I guess: On the one hand, be as gentle as possible behind the scenes in easing Mubarak out so as not to offend other Sunni leaders around the region, and on the other hand, call publicly for restraint by the Egyptian army and assure the protesters that their voices are being heard. Protesters can listen to this and assume that when Obama says “now,” he’s working hard to push Mubarak out. And allies can listen to it and assume that we’re still on track for a nice “orderly transition,” provided the Egyptian public is willing to tolerate it.

I have to say, I’m amazed that he had the balls to toss the following lines in there. Remember, we’ve backed Mubarak for 30 years, through administrations led by both Republicans and Democrats, precisely because we knew he’d keep the fanatics among the Egyptian electorate out of power:

After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to president Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed all of us who are privileged to serve in political positions of power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us this is one of those moments; this is one of those times…

To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear. We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.

If I were Egyptian, I’d feel grievously insulted that this guy would dare pay lip service to democracy and self-determination after his country looked the other way at fascism for more than a generation. But who knows? Hopefully it’ll work, at least well enough to maintain a little American leverage over whatever comes next.

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