White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs can be a masterful performer on the podium, redefining tough questions into ones he likes better, responding to others at length in his Alabama cadence without necessarily providing an actual answer while on other occasions parsing out some nuggets of valuable information. And the Obama communications team has already absorbed the successful strategy originally perfected by President Ronald Reagan of spoon-feeding a daily message to the clamoring press.
But last week, the Obama White House spin machine was instead recycling the Bush administration, buffeted well off message in part by its own mistakes. Instead of President Barack Obamas grand plans for the future and his heroic effort to rescue the economy the subject of so much ink and talk since Inauguration Day the topic of the week was the interrogation policies of former President George W. Bush.
The week had been carefully mapped out some time in advance. Monday was Fiscal Responsibility Day, with Obama convening his very first Cabinet meeting and authoritatively instructing his most senior advisers to get to work deleting $100 million from the budget and dont forget to report back with the results. Tuesday was Volunteerism Day, a carefully choreographed performance that included an appearance by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Then a trek to a local school, with Kennedy in tow, where the president signed legislation named for Kennedy that enlarged the AmeriCorps volunteer program. Jordans King Abdullah II also stopped by for a visit to make this partially Middle East Peacemaker Day.
Wednesday was Earth Day, so Obama seized the opportunity with a trip to Iowa to tout his energy and environmental agenda. Thursday was Credit Card Debtors Assistance Day featuring, on behalf of American consumers, a dressing down in the Roosevelt Room of the credit card company executives who like to pile on all those late fees. And Friday was Education Day, highlighted by an event designed to showcase ways to make college more affordable.
So what did the week in fact look like? All Bush-era interrogation programs, all the time. While some argue whether torture is the right word for the programs, none would contend that it was the incorrect term to describe the week endured by the White House press office.
The theme had actually kicked off the week before with the White House decision to release memos providing the rationales for the interrogations, despite what reportedly was a warning from CIA Director and veteran Washington hand Leon Panetta that such a move would amount to a big-time stirring of the pot.