For a commander in chief that doesn't hold many formal news conferences at the White House, President Obama seemed to make the most of his saturation TV coverage Friday by trying to set the record straight on some things. From admitting he'd fallen short on his efforts to fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, to recognizing his attempts at creating a better spirit in Washington haven't been reaping a lot of results, Mr. Obama was quite candid.
We all know campaign promises are a residual topic in any young presidency, and Mr. Obama referred to his openly. When asked whether the U.S. military's detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba would remain open for another year, the president offered this frank assessment, "Well, we have succeeded on delivering a lot of campaign promises that we made. One where we've fallen short is closing Guantanamo. I wanted to close it sooner. We have missed that deadline." But, he added, "It's not for lack of trying."
The president went on to explain the reasons behind his failure to close the prison, which was also a priority for President George W. Bush. He detailed the various political complications behind trying to move convicted terrorists to civilian prisons in the U.S. "But this is an issue that has generated a lot of political rhetoric and people, understandably, are fearful."
Still, Obama said, "We should be able to lock them up and make sure that they don't see the light of day. We can do that. We've done it before."
Sometimes clarification is the word of the day. The president was asked about his recent comment that if the upcoming congressional election is a referendum on Americans' feelings about the economy, Democrats will not do well. "How could it not be?" he was asked.
Mr. Obama tried to explain, "[W]hat I said was that if it was just a referendum on whether we've made the kind of progress that we need to, then people around the country would say, 'We're not there yet.' If the election is about the policies that are going to move us forward versus the policies that will get us back into a mess, then I think the Democrats will do very well."
Clarification noted? It's too early to say.
It seems every candidate for office in modern times runs on the idea of changing the way Washington works. Mr. Obama, the candidate of "hope and change" was no different. When prompted by a reporter to explain how he has been able to do that, the president offered a lofty self-assessment of his accomplishments. Then, he turned the question into a critique. "Now, if you're asking why haven't I been able to create a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington, I think that's fair," he admitted.
But Mr. Obama went on to lay blame on outside factors like Republican obstinance. "We got a lot of resistance very early," he said. The president also laid blame on special interests and their role in government policy. "[I]t's messy. And it's frustrating," he lamented.
Another topic to clear up was his own faith. A self-professed Christian, the president has been faced with recent polls showing nearly one in five people continue to believe that he is Muslim. While vehemently arguing for the fair treatment of Muslims in America, he made clear in his answer to an unrelated question that he is, in fact, a Christian.
"[A]s somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise," he said in discussing religious tolerance. His aides have said the president does not wear his faith on his sleeve, but the press conference offered the president a chance to set the record straight, if only in passing.