This afternoon, President Barack Obama held a White House meeting with the last Democrat to hold that office, and the only Democrat to win re-election to that office since LBJ, Bill Clinton. After the meeting, the two held a brief press conference in which Obama offered a quick introduction before turning the Q&A over to Clinton. The subject of all this is the deal that Obama and the Republicans reached concerning the Bush tax cuts. Clinton did a much better job of selling those cuts than Obama did during two press events earlier this week. He noted, in his wonkishly informed way, how the deal isn’t perfect but it’s better than what Obama can reasonably expect to get after the GOP takes over the House in January. He also noted that, overall, the tax cuts will help the economy. And he even went into a detailed discussion of how they payroll tax cuts that are part of the deal will help us become more competitive internationally. Clinton was in command of the facts, and did strong work selling the tax cut deal — the deal that Obama has so far failed to sell to his own party.
And then, an extraordinary thing happened.
Obama said he had kept the first lady waiting for half an hour, and told the press they were in “good hands.” And he left the briefing. Clinton did not.
The former president continued the press conference, the logo of the White House behind him in what looked like a flashback to his pre-Monica days.
Clinton looks quite a bit older now, true, but he also looks like he’s in charge. He handled the press as well as he ever did, which is a stark contrast to the way the current president mishandled the press — twice — earlier this week.
After Clinton ended the press conference, MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan came on and asked about the “optics” of all this.
Here’s what I saw. I saw a current president who has never looked less interested in doing his job. I also saw a former president who never lost interest in doing that job. Obama’s demeanor and body language suggested that he’d rather be anywhere but where he was, and then he followed through and actually bolted for the door. Clinton’s demeanor was that of a passionate wonk trying to sell a policy he actually cared about, that he thought would be good for the country. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t even his own policy that he was selling.
I saw a president who, for a few minutes a least, ceded his job to his predecessor. He’d failed to sell his own policy, so he needed and got some rescue from Clinton.
This was the third press appearance President Obama has made this week, and it was far and away the weirdest presidential press briefing I’ve ever seen. Where Obama goes from here is anyone’s guess.
Update: Real Clear Politics has video of the spectacle. Obama actually interrupts Clinton delivering an answer, to say his bit about keeping the first lady waiting, before hitting the exit. Clinton says, “I don’t want to make her mad, just go” and waves POTUS on his way without missing a beat and continues with the presser.