President Obama's recent press conference was as engaging as it was informative. Though at points he stumbled, most egregiously when he hemmed and hawed in response to a question before finally admitting his ignorance, Obama answered most of the questions in a knowledgeable and thoughtful manner.
This was a breath of fresh air in the wake of the lingering stink bombs that were President Bush's infrequent press conferences, which were characterized by rhetoric and a general uneasiness about being forthcoming.
With Obama's conference garnering 50 million viewers, it seems this is an effective means of cultivating an engaged public. Anyone who watched this heard relevant questions and responsive answers in what could have doubled for a "School House Rock" video for the president's ability to keep a rhythm while educating the electorate.
Beyond illuminating Americans as to his views, Obama must use his press conferences to sell his agenda to the voters. Through this pulpit he has a chance to frame his positions in a manner that will engender widespread support.
If successful, this would represent an important change of pace for the Democrats, who are usually inept or unwilling to preach the merits of their platforms. In the past, Republicans have done a much better job framing issues to their advantage, such as taxes.
This situation peaked with the "Great Communicator," President Reagan, who was able to jumpstart a revolution in his namesake by articulating an argument that would have mass appeal. For Reagan, this ability to speak to the people didn't manifest itself in his press conferences but was the product of public appearances where he utilized language that was littered with colloquialisms and tailored to alienate the fewest amount of people.
In the aftermath of Reagan, Democrats have struggled to defend their positions - until recently, as the public has grown tired of the failed empty rhetoric of the Republicans. This has created a narrow window of opportunity for Obama to dictate the conversation with the electorate, as he will be the voice from whom people take their cues. For that reason, he used his press conference for the main purpose of preaching the merits of his stimulus plan.
He approached the bill as something more than just a large sum of money; instead he framed it as a large sum of money that will impact real people and have real benefits. In this vein of thought he addressed the costs and benefits of his plan, such as the portion allotted for weatherizing homes. Obama acknowledged the immediate price tag, but moved beyond that to highlight the jobs it would create as well as the long-term economic benefits, environmental advantages and reduced dependence on foreign energy the program represented.
While President Obama will continue to further his agenda through speeches and surrogates, the presidential press conference stands alone as a medium unmatched in disclosure and frankness. It represents one of the rare times when the president must address his critics head on, which allows him to address the same questions Americans have.
For that reason, Obama should continue to partake in press conferences, so he can move from talking at the American people to engaging in dialogue with the people.
Dave Lombardo is a senior poli-sci major who wants to talk turkey with Obama sometime.