Live at 2:15 ET: Obama’s final press conference — and public appearance — as president
This is it. There’s nothing scheduled at the White House tomorrow except meetings, according to the NYT. You’ll see him on Friday morning, of course, but in a non-speaking role, which means this is the last time we’ll ever have to let him be clear. The professor is retiring. School’s out, forever.
His final job approval rating, per ABC/WaPo, stands at 60 percent. Ross Douthat peers into the near-future and sees a rosy legacy for The One courtesy of the usual crowd of liberal historian-hagiographers:
[A] lot of small failures, no less than one major one, can leave the world less safe — and there were enough failures that Obama very clearly did.
Not that this will prevent him from being a liberal icon, years or generations hence. If John F. Kennedy’s blundering imperilment of world peace was buried under hagiography, there will be a similar forgetting spread over Obama’s foreign policy setbacks. As the first black president, the politician who passed health care reform and the man who personally embodied upper-class liberalism’s cosmopolitan self-image, he will almost certainly regain, in what is sure to be an active post-presidency, some of the cult that surrounded him during his ascent.
This will be true regardless of whether Donald Trump’s reign pushes America decisively toward a grim post-liberal war of Bannonites against Bernie Bros or ends in some kind of glorious cosmopoliberal restoration. If the former, Obama will be remembered by liberals as the last good king, the man who for eight years did battle with the dark heart of white America. If the latter, he will be hailed as the man who saw the liberal future clearly even amid a temporary backlash.
If Trump’s presidency is a success, much left-wing energy will be devoted to finding the predicates for his successes in Obama’s policies. If it’s a failure, those failures will be Trump’s alone. The realistic worst-case scenario for O is that he spends the next 30 years spooning out liberal pieties and engaging sporadically on behalf of the left’s cause du jour and ends up with some “even better as an activist than he was as president!” assessments. Too much emotional and intellectual capital was invested by progressives in the cult of Obama to ever completely let go of the dream. They wanted him to be truly great and so, in the fullness of time, they’ll convince themselves that he was.
One curious thing about today’s presser: Obama could have waited until afterward to issue the Chelsea Manning and Oscar Lopez Rivera commutations so that he wouldn’t have to face questions about them. The fact that he pulled the trigger beforehand suggests that he either felt a duty to be accountable and explain himself — doubtful — or he believes the case for clemency in both cases is solid and was eager to set his critics straight. Or, third option, he expects the media’s questions on the subject not to be too challenging, a safe bet when they’re in even more of an “O Captain, My Captain” mood than usual. Makes me wonder, though: Does this mean he isn’t planning any other major acts of clemency in the next 46 hours? It’d be weird to drop the Manning commutation before the presser while saving, say, a pardon for Bowe Bergdahl for later. If you’re willing to be questioned, put all your cards on the table before stepping to the mic.
The press conference will be held in the briefing room rather than one of the statelier rooms of the White House, which I assume was arranged so that Obama could get in one last lecture to Trump about not kicking reporters out of their traditional home. Alas, Trump already took that talking point away from him. But Obama won’t be deterred from a scolding:
In an interview with POLITICO, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will use his final news conference to highlight his concerns about the restrictions on the media that the president-elect put in place during his campaign and transition, and what it might mean for his administration.
“The media environment is challenging, and the news media and the journalists who cover the White House will be challenged to rise to the occasion and adapt to the changing environment,” said Earnest, in an interview ahead of Wednesday. “I know the president is interested in showing his support for their efforts to do that.”
Here’s live video in case you’re at work and not near a TV. Over/under on reporters openly tearing up by the end: Seven.
Update: We’re only a few minutes in and he’s already told the press, “You are not supposed to be sycophants, you are supposed to be skeptics.” This guy. Saying that. To this media.