It was yet another Goldilocks performance. President Obama faces them all the time when there is a crisis (which there always seems to be).
He can’t be too hot - - there can be incredible repercussions both at home and abroad regarding anything he says and how he says it - - but he can’t be too cold.
The not too cold part seems to be the tougher role for him. He is Mr. Cool, after all. “No Drama” Obama. The president who said on his 100th day in office, “Things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem.”
As David Axelrod, his chief adviser, once put it to me, “One of Barack’s strengths is that he is never too high and never too low. He doesn’t pump his fists in the air and whoop when things go well, and he doesn’t holler when they don’t.”
But these days - - with repression and rioting in Iran - - Obama’s critics want to see some pump and whoop and holler. They want to see some passion, some (bloodless) blood and guts.
So at his news conference Tuesday afternoon, Obama turned up the heat a little. But just a little, like a master chef looking for just the right temperature to cook the dish without burning it.
Obama said he was “appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days” in Iran.
But even when presidents try to follow the Goldilocks strategy of being “not too hot and not too cold but just right,” they find they get held to an even higher standard: Why weren’t they just right sooner?
After Obama said he was “appalled and outraged,” Major Garrett of Fox News asked him, “What took you so long?”
At this, Mr. Cool turned into Mr. Icy. “I don’t think that’s accurate. Track my words,” the president said. “We’ve been entirely consistent.”
And when another reporter asked if he was responding to the criticism of John McCain and other Republicans who implied he had been “weak and timid,” Obama said: “What do you think? I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues. Only I’m the president of the United States.”
So there. And when NBC’s Chuck Todd asked why he would not spell out the consequences for Iran if the rulers there did not clean up their act, Obama said, “I know everybody here is on a 24-hours news cycle. I am not.”
The news conference was supposed to be held in the Rose Garden, but when temperatures rose into the 80s, it was moved inside to the White House Briefing Room. This did not disturb the White House press corps, which is used to being stored in a cool, dark place.
Wearing a tie that was an icy shade of lavender, Obama remained, as always, unflappable. Before the news conference, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said he was “almost debonair” in his manner. After the news conference, you could remove the “almost.”
Obama is not of the “run about, scream and shout” school of political activism that often dominates talk TV. What is Obama really going to do about Iran? His options are limited. Direct intervention? Ground troops? Forget about it. He got no questions about Iraq or Afghanistan where American troops continue to fight and die, because those countries are not the flavor of the day. Today.
He did get several questions about health care and the economy, and he did say he feels the pain and understands the frustration of the American people.
“I don’t expect them to be satisfied,” Obama said. “Look, the American people have a right to feel this is a tough time right now. What is incredible to me is how resilient the American people have been.”
You mean we’ve had a choice?