President Obama hosted a White House press conference this afternoon, the bulk of which dealt with the details of the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Reporters pressed Obama on several angles, and the president, to his credit, didn’t dodge anything – he offered detailed responses and defenses to every inquiry.
And then Obama did something I’ve never seen him – or really, any president – do. From the transcript:
“All right. Have we exhausted Iran questions here? I think there’s a helicopter that’s coming. But I really am enjoying this Iran debate.“Topics that may not have been touched upon, criticisms that you’ve heard that I did not answer…. I just want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stones un-turned here.”
It’s really worth watching the video of this portion, because I’ve never seen anything like it at a White House press conference. In effect, Obama wanted to hear every possible criticism – from Republicans, from Israeli officials, from the media, anyone – of the Iran deal so that he could explain, in detail, why those criticisms are wrong.
Ordinarily, in response to a breakthrough diplomatic achievement like this one, you might expect to see a president sidestep criticisms and focus on praise and international support, all in the hopes of building public and congressional support. It’s typical, and arguably natural, for a president to downplay the role of naysayers.
Obama did the exact opposite. He welcomed criticisms. He literally sought them out. The president seemed eager, if not genuinely enthusiastic, about hearing the very worst critics could come up with. Obama effectively stood at the podium for an hour and said, “Give me your best shot.”
Indeed, after calling on specific reporters by name, Obama moved to a freer, more open press conference towards the end, pointing to those who had something negative to ask about the deal, all because the president was looking for critical talking points that he could debunk in real time.
Take a close look in the above clip at what the president does towards the end: he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a note, and says, “I’m just going to look – I made some notes about many of the arguments – the other arguments that I’ve heard here….”
In other words, the president, no longer content to debunk the negative arguments raised by the press corps, started playing devil’s advocate – to himself – looking for additional negative critiques that he could also discredit publicly.
It conveyed an amazing level of confidence in the diplomatic agreement. Obama made it clear that no matter what anyone asked, argued, or complained, he knew this deal is stronger than anything its (or his) critics could come up with.
The Huffington Post’s Ryan Lizza joked on Twitter, “Obama should propose a one-on-one debate between himself and an anti-Iran deal Republican of the party’s choice.” That’s funny, but I half-expected the president to go there.
Heck, maybe that’s next.