Douglas Brinkley Hails 'Warm and Engaging' Obama

After President Obama's Monday press conference, liberal historian Douglas Brinkley fawned over him on CNN as a "warm and engaging man," pitted against Republicans who "don't want to be in a photo-op with him."

"I don't think we can blame the President for his style. I think it's just another part of this terrible political gridlock we have. President Obama is a warm and engaging man," Brinkley complimented the President.

Brinkley laughably added that "he [Obama] is plenty friendly to everybody he meets, including reporters." Did he miss the President's testy exchange with Major Garrett of CBS News, where Obama lectured Garrett that "This is the United States of America, Major"? Perhaps Obama is "friendly" only to the reporters who don't ask him tough questions.

And maybe that's why Brinkley loves Obama, as he is a welcome White House guest. "I'm one of the historians he invites to the White House periodically. We have a marvelous time talking about history, laughing," he revealed to CNN.

In his analysis of the President's relationship with Republicans, Brinkley said Obama "struck a good tone" when he talked about Republicans as having a different vision of what government should be.

"I think that he was correct today, that just a lot of Republicans don't want to be in a photo-op with him. It doesn't play back in their Congressional district. And we do run every two years for Congress, and an opposition will just show, look, here's President Obama with his arm around a Republican, and somebody will use that against a certain member of Congress," Brinkley explained to CNN.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on January 14 at 1:02 p.m. EST, is as follows:

[1:02]

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN anchor: And Doug, do you think it was accurate, do you think it was fair what the President said when he talked about Republicans, a certain group within the party, that really is about a different vision of about what the government should be doing and that they are suspicious of the government when it comes to providing health care, when it comes to dealing with people's money, when it comes to dealing with their education? Did he strike the right tone there?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, professor of History and fellow, Rice University: Well, I think he struck a good tone. I mean, one of the problems I had with the press conference, may not have been the President's fault, I didn't think we asked a lot of other questions. I mean, we're living in the age of climate change. It doesn't come up. What are we going to do about China? Will he go to China? Can we create more favorable trade terms with China? What's going on in Syria and the Middle East? We were really, again, stuck on this showdown, two scorpions in a bottle, to use a cold War metaphor, between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Well, now the scorpions are the White House versus Congress. And we seem to be replaying this same scenario over and over again, March looming, and it's hard to get a sense of the vision of a second term if every three months we're going to be in these kind of tight, you know, debt ceiling fiscal cliff types of negotiations. So somehow, this spring, the President has got to break this syndrome. And I think he made it very clear, if the government goes bankrupt, Congress will be blamed and then he'll start really using executive authority in a way probably unprecedented since Theodore Roosevelt.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, you brought up a really good point there, the fact that there are some things that just did not come up, the Middle East didn't come, immigration reform did not come up. I mean, these are the kind of things, we are now stuck in this discussion over what is going to happen next, the next showdown with Congress.

One of the things that was a sidebar, it was a lot of the criticism he has been getting over his cabinet picks, whether or not it's diverse enough, whether or not this is more reflective of what we've seen in Lincoln's cabinet, the team of rivals or whether or not it's more like FDR back in 1933. What do you make of that criticism? Do you think it's fair? Because we are seeing the – you know, those top jobs that are going, Treasury, Defense, CIA, all to white men.

BRINKLEY: Well, I think the photo you are flashing right now is photogate. It was a terrible image to get out there. It just shows the boy's club together. On the other hand, this President is clearly somebody committed to diversity, there's two women on the Supreme Court, many of – you know, he had Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. She's leaving. It's hard to find somebody to replace her of her stature. And I think one of the news-making bits of today is the President said, just give me a take a breath for a minute and wait until you see what my entire cabinet looks like, meaning, clearly, that some women are going to be coming in in Transportation or Interior, some of the other posts that might become available soon.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, finally, what do we make of how the President is going to govern moving forward in his second term? Is this the kind of Congress, 113th Congress, that he can work with to get something done or is he going to have to use executive order, whether it's looking at something, dealing with the gun laws, gun legislation, whether it's small things that he can chip away when it comes to immigration reform, all kinds of things that he can do as Commander-in-Chief, without working with Congress?

BRINKLEY: I think the big legislative achievement to Barack Obama will have taken place, history will show in the first term, with ObamaCare. He's going to have to fight to get that to become a birth right for all Americans here in his second term. Beyond that, I don't see a chance for much of a legislative agenda. The politics are just too rotten for it. Subsequently, he's going to have to be known as this great executive power president. And he is going to have to – he has great opportunities in foreign affairs.

As I mentioned on the climate change issue, just talking about it and invoking it in the upcoming inaugural, make it an important part of his State of the Union address coming up. He's got to find other issues than this constant, every three months, you know, fighting Congress over this, because there's no legacy for him in that. People will not go to the Obama presidential library in Chicago to see the pen that these debt debates, you know, the document that he signed on these things. And it's starting to frustrate people. He needs to get vision, not just practical day-by-day governing.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, finally, one of the things that the President is saying, he said, look, those who know me, I'm a friendly guy, you know, I enjoy a good party here. I'm even inviting the Republicans over to the White House and they don't accept my invitation, the optics. You know, it's not good for the constituents there. How does he change that because this is the kind of thing the Republicans, it just makes them mad, just insane, when they hear that kind of thing.

BRINKLEY: Well, look, I think President Obama is who he is and he's an intellectual, but he's also very warm and very engaging. I'm one of the historians he invites to the White House periodically. We have a marvelous time talking about history, laughing. I think that he was correct today, that just a lot of Republicans don't want to be in a photo-op with him. It doesn't play back in their Congressional district. And we do run every two years for Congress, and an opposition will just show, look, here's President Obama with his arm around a Republican, and somebody will use that against a certain member of Congress.

And I -- so, I don't think we can blame the President for his style. I think it's just another part of this terrible political gridlock we have. President Obama is a warm and engaging man. He doesn't have the charm of maybe a John F. Kennedy or a Ronald Reagan, but he's plenty friendly to everybody he meets, including reporters.

MALVEAUX: He is, indeed.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014