President Obama gave a newsworthy post-election news conference this afternoon. Highlights:
On the substance, Mr. Obama said the "most important thing" that "has to be done in the lame duck session" of Congress is to "make sure that taxes don't go up on middle-class families next year."
"My goal is to make sure that we don't have a huge spike in taxes for middle class families," the president said, calling it "one of my top priorities," and echoing the "middle class" message that I noted emerging last night in the victory remarks of Senator Schumer and Senator-elect Blumenthal.
He said the rest of the tax cuts (or increases, depending on how you look at them), for non-middle-class families or "the rich" depending on how you look at it, would be subject to negotiation with congressional leaders.
He said he didn't want to refight the whole battle over the health care legislation but was willing to revisit some requirements, such as the requirement for businesses to file 1099 forms with the IRS for all expenditures more than $600. "That's something that we should take a look at," he said.
He pointed to energy, infrastructure, education, and science as areas where he might be able to work with Republicans in Congress, twice mentioning "electric cars" and "natural gas" and once mentioning "our nuclear industry." He said China has better railroads than America and Singapore has better airports, declaring, "the most important competition we face is between America and our economic competitors all around the world." (A bit of a zero-sum approach.)
On the style, Mr. Obama tried really hard to be self-reflective and humble.
"It feels bad," he said of the election results that he characterized as a "shellacking."
"It's hard, and I take responsibility for it in a lot of ways," he said. "This is a growth process and an evolution."
He said he wanted to do better at "civility in our discourse" (this from a guy who called bankers "fat cats" and likened them to suicide bombers and who reminded Hispanic voters to remember their "enemies," by which he meant Republicans.) He indicated some regret that business felt like it was "always painted as the bad guy."
"The free market has to be nurtured and cultivated," Mr. Obama said. "The most important thing we can do is boost and encourage our business."
But accepting complete personal responsibility, or even appearing to, is not entirely easy for this president. My favorite moment of the whole press conference came when Mr. Obama declared, "I've got to go a better job, just like everyone else in Washington does."
It reminded me of his remark last year: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."