In his first presidential news conference tonight, President Obama was able to spend most of an hour talking to most of the country, mostly about the economy.
Yet in those long answers, which were like five-minute mini-essays or speeches all about the economy, he was able to explain from his perspective how bad the situation is, how we got into this mess, and how his stimulus package will fix it. So from that perspective, he was able to really get his message across tonight.
And, of course, that bully-pulpit is something he has that his opponents just can't match.
Reaching Out: B
On reaching out to the Republicans, I think you give him a "B."
If you look over the course of the last four weeks, the president has been able to pick Republicans for his cabinet. But he certainly hasn't been able to achieve the goal of getting majority Republican votes -- 80 votes he once said he wanted -- on his stimulus package.
He was able to make his point tonight how basically, that isn't his fault. That's what he was trying to say tonight. That he's reached out but he hasn't has a response from the Republican side.
But I think what you saw is that there's a real, inherent tension between the president's promise of bipartisanship, of reaching out the other side, and his promise of fundamental policy change.
And, he didn't really sugar coat the differences tonight that he and the majority of Republicans have over how to address this economic problem right now. He expressed that these aren't issues that can be bridged by cocktail parties or phone calls to cell phones.
On his first four weeks, you have to give the president an "Incomplete." The president has been able to make his case in his first four weeks. But he's also had the kind of stumbles that most presidents have in their early days.
He lost the cabinet appointment of Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services Secretary. But how he's doing, how he will be seen, is all dependent on two things that are likely to unfold later this week.
One, is he actually successful in passing the stimulus package, in getting it through the House and the Senate and signing it into law by that deadline that he set of President's Day? And, will it work?
Two, the bank bailout plan they are unveiling Tuesday. He said he didn't wan to pre-empt his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who is expected to announce the next phase of this financial stabilization plan.
That probably has as much to do with his ultimate success as the stimulus package does.
The president even acknowledged that he can't even say yet whether he's going to have to come back and ask the country for more money, or whether this is going to work.
You can't come up with a grade for this president until we know how those two big programs work out.