At a moment when the President is more popular than most of hissignature policies, when weak-kneed Democrats threaten to bolt onhealthcare reform and hypocritical legislators have turned Iran’selection into a political football with little regard for theramifications of their rhetoric for Iranian protesters, Obama workedhard to use his fourth press conference to refocus and reset thepolitical debate.
Keeping his cool (even while sparring with a handful of snarkyreporters), Obama displayed moral realism and principled respect for thecourage, dignity and sovereignty of the Iranian people. He did whatIranian expert Trita Parsi advised: condemn violence, without pickingsides.
In his opening remarks, Obama did sound a more impassioned notethan at any time since the Iranian election in deploring the violence inthe streets of Tehran. “The United States and the internationalcommunity have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings andimprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjustactions.” Yet Obama was careful to continue, ” I have made it clearthat the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republicof Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs….. TheIranian people can speak for themselves.” He referred again to Dr.Martin Luther King’s powerful words, “the arc of the moral universe islong, but it bends toward justice,” to affirm the belief–as he did inhis magnificent Cairo Speech— that “suppressing ideas never succeeds inmaking them go away…..those who stand up for justice are always on theright side of history.”
Questions about Iran, and criticism of the White House’s response, camerapid fire at the top, but much of the press conference pivoted to focuson the state of the economy, and the bruising fights ahead overregulatory reform and healthcare.
Asked about the Federal Reserve’s new role and new powers, Obama usedthe presser to support Ben Bernanke and the proposed expansion of theFed’s power to monitor systemic risk in the financial system. (Manylegislators and experts question giving new powers to an outlet thatfailed to do its job and is in thrall to the banks it’s supposed toregulate. The good news: the idea faces real pushback from legislators.As William Greider has reported, some 230 House members have endorsed ameasure to force GAO auditing of the Fed, “a small but important steptowards dismantling the central bank’s privileged secrecy andintimidating mystique.”) To his credit, Obama seemed more animated inmaking the case for a new Consumer Finance Protection Agency that wouldcurb subprime mortgages and credit card gouging among other abuses and,for the first time, give consumers and citizens a seat at the regulatorytable, however flawed.