WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama wanted to brush it off, the question about how he came to eat all the harsh words he said against Hillary Rodham Clinton during the heated Democratic primary.
It was not too long ago that Obama was highly critical of Clinton, so naturally he was queried about this turnaround at his press conference in Chicago where he announced Cabinet picks.
Peter Baker of the New York Times was polite when he asked about Obama's reversal on Clinton.
"You belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders, and your new White House counsel [Greg Craig] said her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering if you could talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring."
Obama in reply, belittled a serious question.
"I think this is fun for the press, to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign," Obama said.
"Your quotes, sir," Baker parried.
Obama said he understood. "You're having fun."
"I'm asking a question," said Baker.
"I'm not faulting" the question, Obama hedged in his comments. "If you look at the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the -- the heat of a campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure and in order to do that we have to combine military power with strengthened diplomacy. . . . I think she is going to be an outstanding secretary of state. And if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have offered her the job. And if she didn't believe that I was equipped to lead this nation at such a difficult time, she would not have accepted. OK?"
OK? Not really. It was a demonstration of what Obama called during the campaign "the textbook Washington game." Obama, who ran against an army of straw cynics, was now saying what he said during the campaign didn't count. Just words, I suppose. Obama's answer made me wonder, did he believe his criticisms of Clinton when he said them?
I asked Al Felzenberg, who studies presidential leadership, what he made of Obama's answer. Clinton's appointment was "stellar," said Felzenberg, the author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.
"He showed, I hate to say the word, a bit of naivete there and cynicism. Should we take what you say now with some credence if, a year from now, you say and do something else without providing an explanation in greater depth?"