Many of President Obama’s fans loved the part of Wednesday’s press conference on the Iranian nuke deal where he dispensed with any need for Luther the anger translator in dealing with the Washington press. Who among us does not enjoy seeing mainstream media stars like Jonathan Karl intellectually overridden, or Major Garrett verbally demoted to Corporal Troll?
But Obama’s impatience with the stagecraft of the White House press conference went beyond a media-celebrity spanking to hint at a long-overdue rhetorical change. Instead of trimming his arguments to accommodate opposing talking points, Obama seemed to abandon the Clintonian triangulation that’s been strangling Democrats for a quarter of a century to directly push back against the buried assumptions that tilt Beltway opinion to the right.
The Iran deal itself, a painstaking international negotiation that involves far more moving parts than even the Republican presidential field, all but demanded this change in strategy anyway. Quibblers about the agreement, Obama pointed out, seemed to prefer war to peace. To defend the deal, he had to elevate discussion to this meta level. Obama repeatedly asked the press to give him their best shot, so he could more decisively knock down the rote talking points.
ABC’s Karl, for example, kicked off the presser by asking if it gives Obama “pause that that Syrian dictator Assad” and “those in Tehran who still shout ‘death to America’” are praising the deal and “yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it a mistake of historic proportions?” (Karl ignored the Iranian wags who were shouting, brilliantly: “Death to no one! Long live life!”) Obama replied:
It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear. That’s what politicians do, and that’s been the case throughout….
Well, now we have a document. So you can see what the deal is. We don’t have to speculate. We don’t have to engage in spin. You can just read what it says and what is required. And nobody has disputed that as a consequence of this agreement, Iran has to drastically reduce its stockpiles of uranium, is cut off from plutonium, the Fordow facility that is underground is converted, that we have an unprecedented inspections regime, that we have snap-back provisions if they cheat.
And on and on he went, explaining patiently that ultimately the only alternative to diplomacy is war, and answering the most common complaints about the deal:
Now, you’ll hear some critics say, “Well, we could have negotiated a better deal.” OK. What does that mean? I think the suggestion among a lot of the critics has been that a—a better deal, an acceptable deal would be one in which Iran has no nuclear capacity at all, peaceful or otherwise. The problem with that position is that there is nobody who thinks that Iran would or could ever accept that, and the international community does not take the view that Iran can’t have a peaceful nuclear program. They agree with us that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.