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Professor in Chief

The pundits are weighing in on President Obama’s second press conference. Gee, isn’t that one more press conference than President Bush had during his second term? Anyhoo, the responses have ranged from a “not a good night at all” rating from William Bennett (as if I expected anything else) to the folks on MSNBC calling his performance that of the “Professor in Chief.”


As I watched the press conference with BMNB (my husband, Black Man Not Blogging), I told him, “You know, he’s had the best preparation for this press conference that there could ever be – being a law professor.” As a former law professor, I couldn’t help but smile.

As a law professor, you have to be knowledgeable about your subject matter, yet humble and confident enough to say when you don’t know something and get back to your students with an answer. You know that not all questions posed by your students will be for the purpose of seeking knowledge. If you’re a rookie professor or, depending on what part of the country you’re in, a professor of color, you know that many questions will be asked by students to test you, to demean you, to marginalize you. The key is to give every question equal respect and tone lest you be perceived as arrogant, cold (the adjective most often applied to women law professors, as if we’re supposed to be warm and fuzzy by virtue of possessing ovaries), or angry. You can, if you're as skillful as President Obama, phrase your answer in a tone that is respectful but with words that smack down your offending questioners, e.g, "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." And like the press corps, law students will ask follow-up questions if they think you’ve dodged their question. President Obama handled the press corps like a class of first-year law students, and, unlike the wide latitude they gave President Bush’s rambling filibusters, I don’t think the press corps knew quite what to make of or do with President Obama.

Like a law professor, a president in a press conference is, ultimately, in control. You choose whom to call on, and the power to ignore someone – and in the case of a class of law students, to publicly ignore someone with a hand raised for a substantial amount of time – is a source of control. Law professors have even more power in that they can defer questions you think aren’t germane to the day’s lecture to the time when that subject will be discussed, or explain, ever so tactfully, why the question isn’t relevant. But like a president in a press conference, you can never, ever lose your cool, because then the lecture or press conference becomes less about the information you’re trying to impart and more about you and your performance. If the message gets lost in the medium, you’ve lost the game and given your potential critics a legitimate criticism – you’re unclear, unfocused, or emotional. Kinda like President Bush.

I think President Obama played it like a pro – a professor, that is.

But I did detect a slight saunter, a bit of a “pimp roll,” shall we say, when he departed the East Room.

He’s cool like that.


VwsRMyLife said…
roll on President O

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