EDITORIAL - Obama's world: The president explains his growing list of tasks

Written by Susan Mannella on .

At the risk of appearing star-struck, we would have to say that President Barack Obama's press conference, on the occasion of his first 100 days in office, was an adept and comprehensive summation of the situation of the country.

He addressed the swine flu problem -- the H1N1 flu virus, to be more precise -- in terms that indicated his administration is on top of it, to the degree that it is possible. He sees no point in closing America's border with Mexico and he is asking for an emergency $1.5 billion from Congress to wage the battle.

The president's unusual call to "wash your hands" to combat the flu, which he made twice, underlined a possible risk in his frequent presentations to the public: He risks descending too far into banalities and losing Americans' attention. However, his advice on how to avoid getting swine flu or how to deal with it if it turns up was sound.

Mr. Obama dealt firmly, at Wednesday's televised press event, with what has become the principal substantive criticism of his presidency so far -- that he has taken on too much, that he can't fix the economy, end the Iraq war, take the right steps on Afghanistan and Pakistan, reform immigration, put the bridle on rapacious credit-card purveyors, restore the financial health of banks and lending houses, repair the health-care system and turn around failing schools, all at the same time.

Carefully, invoking sympathy, he pointed out that although he did pledge change during his campaign, he did not seek the challenge of the formidable load of problems that descended on his head as soon as he took office. He said he surely did not want to run car companies or banks. He would have cheerfully settled for a more modest stack of issues to contend with, had he been given the choice.

Nor, he said, was he guilty of wishing to expand government, the classic charge of the right. (He carefully avoided the word "socialism.") In fact, he said he was continuing his effort to shrink or get rid of government programs that were unnecessary or duplicative. Unfortunately, the White House press did not seize the opportunity to point out that the paltry $100 million that the president wants to chop out of a $3.5 trillion budget is, in fact, laughable.

In the foreign affairs area, Mr. Obama took the occasion to cite the Pakistani armed forces for their operation to try to contain the Taliban's advances there. He also expressed confidence that the same armed forces would be able to keep Pakistan's nuclear weapons safeguarded as the situation in the country evolved. The actual question posed to him on that subject was whether America could secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if push came to shove, a dangerous formulation in terms of Pakistan's sovereignty.

Mr. Obama demonstrated again his agility as he wended his way successfully but informatively through a live minefield of questions about Chrysler's fate, Arlen Specter's party switch, torture, Iraq withdrawal, comments by former Vice President Dick Cheney, immigration and abortion.

It was a good show, and Americans who watched it or read the text afterward learned a lot about where the nation is, and where Mr. Obama intends to lead it. That serves to help keep the viewing public tuned in.


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