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Long IslandPolitics

Obama cautious at news conference

What kind of politician brings a teleprompter to a news conference?

A careful one.

President Barack Obama took no chances in his second prime-time news conference, reading aprepared statement in which he took both sides of the AIG bonus brouhaha and asked an anxiousnation for its patience.

"There are no quick fixes," he said, "and there are no silver bullets." It's an interesting dichotomy:Obama came before the nation to sell one of the most expensive and politically risky agendas everoffered by a U.S. president, but his language was heavy with caution. A hard-willed plan given a softsell.

Served up opportunities to lead with his heart, Obama was cerebral. Cool and calming in a time ofwhite-hot public anger.

"You know, there was a lot of outrage and finger-pointing last week, and much of it isunderstandable," Obama said of the bonus issue in his opening remarks. "I'm as angry as anybodyabout those bonuses that went to some of the very same individuals who brought our financialsystem to its knees." "Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enrichingthemselves on the taxpayers' dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and recklessspeculation that puts us all at risk have to be over," the president told reporters and the nation.

But he didn't look angry. Nor did he sound much like a pitchfork-wielding populist.

"At the same time, the rest of us can't afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeksto make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimatelyget these banks lending and our economy moving once more," he said.

It was a carefully modulated statement, and Obama -- relying on a familiar crutch -- read it off aflat-screen monitor perched at the back of the East Room.

The teleprompter was no help during the question-and-answer session (reporters don't signal theirintentions), but Obama was no less careful during that give and take.

Asked why people should trust government with the regulatory authority to take over failingfinancial companies such as troubled insurer American International Group Inc., Obama passed onthe chance to demonize Washington.

"Keep in mind, it is precisely because of the lack of this authority that the AIG situation has gottenworse," Obama said. He then gave a scholarly explanation of how the proposal would work.

Pressed again, Obama cited the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's handling of the IndyMacBank as an example of government properly using its authority.

The government did something right? That's news to most Americans.

Still, it's hard to criticize Obama's communication skills or tactics. Polls show that while the publichas turned against Washington and Wall Street, the president's ratings remain steady.

He has aggressively delivered his cautious message -- through town halls, talk shows, travel and,yes, prime-time news conferences. His message: Stick with me and my $3.6 trillion budget.

"This is a big ocean liner, it's not a speedboat. It doesn't turn around immediately," he said Tuesdaynight. "But we're in a better, better place because of the decisions that we made." Calm. Cool.Careful.

One of the few times he summoned raw emotion came after a reporter demanded to know why ittook him so long to express outrage over the AIG executive bonuses.

"It took a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." Even better,he likes to have it up on the teleprompter.


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