Saturday, December 19, 2015

Five thoughts on Obama's press conference

  1. Obama's response to a question about Guantanamo Bay was interesting, because it offered a glimpse into the range of a president's strategic toolkit. While basically admitting that he can't win on the 'authority to close the base' issue, he does have some control over base management. By leveraging that power to reduce the inmate count, he increases the cost per inmate. This opens up a powerful justification for base closure on fiscal responsibility grounds. Essentially it's a subtler version of "starve the beast", but also a canny heresthetic to shift the terms of the debate.

  2. The President's tie was interesting, and reflects the influence of high-definition cameras and video technology on fashion materials. Lessons learned from this incident, apparently.

  3. I'm constantly fascinated by the careful and measured public speaking style of elite-level professionals. I don't have any data to support this, but I suspect successful politicians speak more slowly and use more filler words ("uhhh") today than in past decades. With twitter, mass media and the global infosphere, the costs of fucking up are dramatically higher. In fact, I would bet that general presidential press conferences have two and only two objectives: 1) don't screw up 2)provide answers that are sufficiently substantive (or substantive-sounding) to eliminate the risk of widespread journalistic critique.

  4. Obama's answer to a climate change question was another example of how executive action can affect the coalition-building landscape to incentivize congressional legislation. The Paris climate deal has direct economic benefits because it locks in subsidies for wind and solar, reducing business' uncertainty and perhaps increasing their willingness to invest in clean energy projects. But a second-order effect is to increase the national constituency that benefits from and/or is habituated to wind and solar. Read David Roberts' excellent look at some of the public support challenges involved with expanding clean energy projects into poor and rural communities.

  5. The forced, somewhat awkward emphasis on Star Wars has four explanations:
    • Obama may simply be a fan and wanted to talk about it. 
    • The White House might be attempting to seize on an inoffensive national cultural meme in order to humanize Obama and boost approval.
    • They might view the presidential bully pulpit as a way to assist the financial success of the movie, and thus in a small way contribute to the health of the overall economy. Having a massive record-breaking blockbuster supports the positive narrative that things are improving.
    • Lastly, Obama might be trying to help Hillary Clinton by reducing viewership for Saturday night's Democratic debate. On some small margin, free presidential advertising will shift people's media consumption behavior from politics to Star Wars.
Full video here

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