Kent Bush: President struggles with ‘enchanting’ question

Kent Bush

This is not an easy job.

Sure, if you get five minutes with the president, you have a few questions to which you would love to have the answer.

But after discussing the economy, Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party, the torture controversy and even abortion policy, it gets a little tougher.

It's like being a blind date with a good-looking woman. Where do you work? Check. Where did you grow up? Check. What kind of music do you like? Check.

Sooner or later, your creativity is tapped out and you begin reaching for enlightening questions that show your counterpart that you are both clever and engaged in the conversation.

Jeff Zeleny from the Washington Bureau of the New York Times (one of the few newspapers that still staffs a Washington Bureau) would have no problem in that situation.

As he watched his counterparts ask the easy questions on the hot topics of the day, Zeleny, who proved his mettle by breaking a lot of major stories during the 2008 presidential race, had to go to question number nine or 10 on his list before he was called on by President Barack Obama.

Finally he got his chance.

"During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?" Zeleny asked.

Like anyone who fielded that question would, the president froze.

"Now let me write this down," Obama said, sparking a wave of laughter.

Then, like a deli clerk asking what you want on your turkey sandwich, he jotted down the points of the questions.

Surprised. Enchanted. Humbled. Troubled. Do you want pickles?

The president tried to answer each point, but struggled - as we all would - with what has enchanted him.

"Enchanted? Enchanted. I will tell you that when I -- when I meet our servicemen and women, enchanted is probably not the word I would use," he said drawing another round of laughter. "And, you know, the more I interact with our servicemen and women, from the top brass down to the lowliest private, I'm just -- I'm grateful to them."

Even though he couldn't help but take note of the uniqueness of Zeleny's query, the president handled the question as well as he could.

Some of the more notable moments from the speech and following press conference included:

- Obama relabeled swine flu the H1N1 flu virus. Is this a move in support of the pork industry or just a kind gesture to anyone afflicted with it to keep their friends from making fun of them?

He told Americans to wash our hands, cover our mouths when we cough, and be careful out there. Vice President Joe Biden took a different approach Thursday morning when he told "Today" show hosts that he wouldn't travel in any confined space - not an airplane and not even the subway.

Is this a world-wide pandemic or just another strain of the flu? The administration needs to get a handle on this quickly.

- He also addressed the economy and the recently passed budget resolution.

"But, even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that's built on a pile of sand, on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards, on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allow recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all," Obama said. "We have to lay a new foundation for growth, a foundation that will strengthen our economy and help us compete in the 21st century. And that's exactly what this budget begins to do."

- The president also addressed a question about interrogation techniques and his recent release of previously classified documents about methods we have used to get information from captured terrorists.

"What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices."

- And finally, Obama addressed the new supermajority of 60 Senators thanks to the party-switch by Arlen Specter.

"I think he's always had a strong independent streak. I think that was true when he was a Republican; I think that will be true when he's a Democrat," he said. "He was very blunt in saying I couldn't count on him to march lockstep on every single issue. And so he's going to still have strong opinions, as many Democrats in the Senate do."

Specter's move was unabashedly strategic - not idealistic. The Pennsylvania Republican Party is smaller and weaker after the 2008 election. His chances for re-election would have been slim as a Republican. It was nothing more than a calculated attempt to keep his job.

Augusta Gazette