Surprised? Enchanted? Humbled? Troubled?

The pride of Exeter, Nebraska/former sports reporter for the Fillmore County (Nebraska) News/former York (Nebraska) News-Times reporterformer editor of the University of Nebraska's Daily Nebraskan/former Des Moines Register reporter/my friend/former Chicago Tribune national political correspondent/current New York Times White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny asked (what I consider to be) the question of the night during President Obama's news conference. It was provocative, in this sense: those of us who watched the news conference on our television sets got to "see" the president thinking right there in front of us.

Those of you who are involved in Iowa politics know Mr. Zeleny's work here in Iowa from when he worked at the Register and Chicago Tribune and his work at The Times. Here's the transcript from tonight's news conference in the White House, after Obama calls on newsman Zeleny:

Zeleny: Thank you, Mr. President.

During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?

MR. OBAMA: Let me write this down. (Laughter.)

Zeleny: Surprised.

MR. OBAMA: All right. I've got —

Zeleny: Troubled.

MR. OBAMA: I've got — what was the first one?

Zeleny: Surprised.

MR. OBAMA: Surprised.

Zeleny: Troubled.

MR. OBAMA: Troubled.

Zeleny: Enchanted.

MR. OBAMA: Enchanted. Nice. (Laughter.)

Zeleny: And humbled.

MR. OBAMA: And what was the last one, humbled?

Zeleny: Humbled. Thank you, sir.

MR. OBAMA: All right. (Laughter.) Okay. (Laughter.)

Surprised. I am surprised, compared to where I started, when we first announced for this race, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.

You know, when I first started this race, Iraq was a central issue. But the economy appeared on the surface to still be relatively strong.

There were underlying problems that I was seeing with health care for families and our education system and college affordability and so forth, but obviously, I didn't anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And so, you know, the typical president, I think, has two or three big problems; we've got seven or eight big problems. And so we've had to move very quickly. And I'm very proud of my team for the fact that we've been able to keep our commitments to the American people to bring about change, while at the same time managing a whole host of issues that had come up that weren't necessarily envisioned a year and a half ago.

Troubled? I'd say less troubled but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises.

I would like to think that everybody would say, you know what, let's take a timeout on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year, and then we can start running for something next year. And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked.

Enchanted? (Laughter.) Enchanted. I — I will — I will tell you that, when I — when I meet our servicemen and -women, enchanted's probably not the word I would use. (Laughter.)

But — but — but I — but I am — I am so profoundly impressed and grateful to them for what they do. They're really good at their job. They are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf. They do so without complaint. They are fiercely loyal to this country.

Humbled by the — humbled by the fact that the presidency is extraordinarily powerful, but we are just part of a much broader tapestry of American life and there are a lot of different power centers. And so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want — (laughter) — or — (chuckles) — or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line. And so, you know, what you do is to make your best arguments, listen hard to what other people have to say and coax folks in the right direction.

This metaphor has been used before, but this — the ship of state is an ocean liner; it's not a speed boat. And so the way we are constantly thinking about this issue of how to bring about the changes that the American people need is to — is to say, if we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, we may not see all the consequences of that change a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, our kids will be able to look back and say that was when we started getting serious about clean energy, that's when health care started to become more efficient and affordable, that's when we became serious about raising our standards in education.

And — and so — I — I have a much longer time horizon than I think you do when you're a candidate or if you're listening, I think, to the media reportage on a day-to-day basis.

And I'm — I'm humbled, last, by the American people who have shown extraordinary patience and, I think, a recognition that we're not going to solve all these problems overnight.


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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. a former Iowan/formerly head of nothing/former radio news listener/disenchanted listener of crappy radio/person with an outtie/former Iowan who thought about getting a tattoo, puked at the lead-in to crap posts like this.