Some Good News For Obama

[ Posted Thursday, July 15th, 2010 – 16:32 UTC ]

President Obama got two pieces of good news today: the Senate passed Wall Street reform, and the volcano of oil on the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico may finally have been brought under control. Whether this does him any good with the public remains to be seen, however.

The passage of Wall Street reform today is very big news indeed, but -- unlike with the healthcare reform effort -- most Americans simply aren't paying that much attention. Even the ones who are paying attention to this landmark legislation are often hard-put to describe all the ins and outs of the new law. Financial markets are very complicated and confusing, and regulating the financial markets is equally arcane and mind-numbingly boring to most folks (who wouldn't know a credit default swap if one came up and offered to rub sunscreen on their back). The fight -- both pro and con -- on Wall Street reform never really echoed much outside of lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C. Which means that the success of passing the new law may also go unnoticed by many folks out there.

Of course, what this really means is that Democrats should get out there and sell what they've just accomplished to the American people. But just suggesting that sort of thing doesn't make it so, as anyone familiar with today's Democrats can attest to. But we'll have plenty of time for telling Democrats how to sell their own successes tomorrow, in our regular "fire up the troops" weekly diatribe, so we'll just mention it here in passing.

But while much of the country may not take much note, the passage of Wall Street reform today is a monumental political achievement for Democrats. As monumental as the health reform law. What this means for Obama politically remains to be seen, but it should at least bury forever the caricature which was circulating not so many months ago that Obama "wasn't getting anything done." Whether folks love or hate it, everyone's got to admit that Obama is furthering his political agenda by steadily gaining legislative victories like today's. This doesn't automatically mean everyone's going to fall in love with Obama all over again, but it should forever end the talk of him as a "do-nothing" president.

The other good news today comes from a place which has spewed nothing but bad news (along with the millions of gallons of oil, of course) for the past few months. Now, admittedly, this is largely out of Obama's direct control (one way or another), but that's not how most voters view the presidency (whether that's actually fair or not). The "Man In Charge" is supposed to take the lumps as well as the cheers for things which happen during his watch. The buck, for most folks, always stops on the Oval Office desk. And for roughly the past three months, this means the bad feelings towards BP and the environmental disaster have also equated into bad feelings towards the president. As the news media continue their "Day 86" clock for the disaster, this has translated into Obama's approval numbers going "below water" for the first time -- in many varied polls -- as his approval rating sinks below the level of his disapproval rating.

But now, maybe -- just maybe, mind you -- the oil may have stopped flowing into the Gulf. If this proves to be (and to stay) true, this will take a huge amount of political pressure off President Obama. Of course, there's still plenty of oil out there to be cleaned up, and the effects of the disaster are going to be around for years to come -- but at least things aren't getting worse by the day any more. If BP also soon succeeds in actually cementing the well closed through the relief wells they've almost finished, then everyone from Florida to Texas will breathe an enormous sigh of relief.

Again, this comes not as a direct result of anything President Obama did, much like the spill itself. The president didn't swim down and stick a wad of chewing gum in the hole personally, in other words. Which means he may not actually reap any political benefit from stopping the flow (or from capping the well permanently, when that happens). But at least things aren't going to be getting worse. This may not sound like a rousing campaign slogan for Democrats -- "Hey, things could be a lot worse, right?" -- but it sure beats "The oil's still flowing," at this point.

Both pieces of good news Obama got today are similar, in that they're likely just to be background information for most Americans (those who don't work on Wall Street, or live on the Gulf coast, that is). And background information isn't what causes a lot of voters to pull one switch or another. Today isn't an enormous political "turning point" for Democrats or for Obama, in other words. But at this point, some good news is certainly better than more gloomy news.

Wall Street reform may be too esoteric for most Americans to get excited about, one way or another. Democrats can make a great case for how wonderful the new law will be, and how it will help out ordinary Americans -- but only if they successfully frame their message, and then forcefully get it out through the media's cynical filter (again, more on this tomorrow). But everyone -- no matter what their political beliefs -- can agree that stopping the oil flowing into the Gulf is a good thing indeed. Oh, sure, it would have been nice if it had happened around two months ago, we can all agree on that as well, but now the media's storyline of the Gulf disaster will shift toward the story of the cleanup (which the media seems to have been mysteriously ignoring for a few weeks), and the story of people getting their lives back to normal (although this story will take years, and the media will likely lose interest a long time before the final chapter, as they usually do). In both the cases of Wall Street reform and the news from the Gulf, however, it's a fair bet that tomorrow morning's newspapers are going to be a lot more cheerful for White House staffers to read than they have been for months.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “Some Good News For Obama”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    WHOOPS! I wrote this out last night, but totally forgot to post it. As I mention, I was exhausted. So apologies for not even letting folks know what was going on!


    Program Note

    No column today, my apologies. Dealing with my car consumed the day, and I'm exhausted, so I'm punting on writing today. Good news is that all the major car work is done, and it's ready to go on a road trip, with only a few more very minor things left to attend to.

    Which is good, because next week I will be attending the Netroots Nation bloggers convention in Las Vegas, and will likely just post re-runs of past columns here for most of the week. I am not even going to attempt "liveblogging" the conference, because (1) so many other people will do it, so there will be no shortage of news from the convention, should you wish to read about it, and (2) it will be my first blogger convention, so I don't want the added stress of trying to meet deadlines in the midst of it all.

    Things will return to normal around here on Monday, July 26, or possibly the day after. Again, my apologies for the interruption in service.


    -- Chris Weigant

  2. [2] 
    Kevin wrote:

    You got exhausted inflating your tires? :D
    Seriously, have fun and no problems on your Vegas adventure.


  3. [3] 
    Hawk Owl wrote:

    I could tell you have a lot on your mind - - knowing how recalcitrant (and expensive) repairs on an older car can be -- but I wanted to remark on the concision
    (is there such a word?) of your description of Obama's, or any president's, need to "seem" presidential.

    Obama seems to have become an anti-Reagan. Instead of a "Teflon" president who could campaign and speechify against "big taxes" while actually increasing taxes in his administration, Obama seems a "Velcro" president to whom his all-to-willing opponents are all-to-willing to attach burrs even while he is accomplishing some significantly pertinent legislation.

    His "thoughtful" and deliberating style will never compete with the Cowboy riding in with guns blazing image our media foster & nurture.

    Or at least so I fear.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Kevin -

    Yeah, but the car corners like a dream now.

    Heh. [Note to anyone who wonders what the heck we're talking about: Do not pass "GO," do not collect $100, go straight to your local library, check out "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" by the incomparable Hunter S. Thompson, and then immediately read it without any delay, as there'll be plenty of time to thank me later for the suggestion.]

    HawkOwl -

    You know, I actually had an idea for a column yesterday, I simply didn't have the energy to write it. The topic (and likely headline) would have been: "The Death Of The Great American Shadetree Mechanic," and would have ranged over subjects such as how you can't even SEE the damn engine in a modern car, due to the thousands (seemingly) of hoses and other bumf (as my wife would say) cluttering up the engine bay; to the fact that modern products -- up to and including cars -- have largely become disposable, and not worth the cost of repair.

    When I was a kid ( young'uns, gather 'round here, Grandpa will tell you a story...), people used to actually FIX television sets when they broke. I know, it's pretty hard to conceive, but people paid small sums of money to handy fixit folks to repair the following items: shoes, radios, stereos, telephones, toasters, electric razors, lawn mowers, televisions, cameras, watches, air conditioners, refrigerators, washers, dryers, dishwashers, furnature, sports equipment, and any number of other consumer products. Even (gasp!) computers, when they first became affordable to the average American.

    Nowadays, not so much. If it's dead, it's cheaper to buy a new one than to try and find someone to fix it for you -- which won't be cheap, even if you can find someone knowledgable enough to do so near you.

    And cars... cars were in a special category. Oh, sure, some people (and most women, the movie "Cousin Vinnie" aside), were just not very handy with cars, and paid the service station (there's a term that dates me) guys money to fix anything on it.

    But a great many members of the public could actually do the following tasks on a car (without paying a fortune to a mechanic or joining a road club like AAA), to keep it running, because it was fairly cheap to do so and fairly easy to learn how: jacking the car up, changing a tire, jump-starting another vehicle, push-starting a (standard, not automatic, transmission) car that wouldn't otherwise start, replacing a headlight, tightening a fan belt, changing a radiator hose, replacing a blown fuse, replacing a blown light bulb pretty much anywhere except maybe behind the dashboard, setting out flares for an accident or disabled car, changing wiper blades, filling ALL fluids under the hood, changing an air filter, changing (cleaning, gapping) spark plugs, replacing an alternator, replacing a starter motor, replacing a water pump, replacing a thermostat, adjusting the idle speed, setting the timing, and, of course, changing the oil and oil filter. Advanced shadetree mechanics could also perform a full tuneup, including replacing (and setting) the points, as well as other esoteric tasks like a lube job. Experts could rebuild carbuerators, and even the whole engine itself.

    These days, the problem is IDENTIFYING any of the above-mentioned items, under all the hoses and other crap.

    Now, to be fair, computer ignition has made some of these tasks obsolete. But the more engines have become high-tech, the fewer things an average Joe can do on them. About the only thing (other than fluids) an average car-owner today can hope to accomplish is pumping up the tires on their own.

    To me, this is a shame.

    The engine I first learned to take care of had three sensors -- water temperature, oil pressure, and brake pressure. The engine I'm currently working on has over a dozen (I'm vauge here, because I haven't identified or even SEEN some of them, even after MAJOR work on it). It needs these sensors for the computer to keep the car running for MUCH longer between tuneups, I will admit. But it's still frustrating I have to admit. Maybe I am just getting old and crotchety, I don't know.

    OK, partly I'm just bitter because I had to shovel a lot of money at the car recently to professional mechanics, but seriously, the thing has almost 200,000 miles on it and with what I just did, I fully expect another 50,000 miles before any other major work is needed. It's a good car, in other words, and worth salvaging.

    Anyway, that's what I would have written, if I had written a column yesterday.

    I was taught basic auto mechanics by my father. He wasn't any sort of "gear-head" or "grease monkey" by a long shot. But he could set your points accurately, and he taught both me and my sister (it was the genderless 1970s, parenting-wise) how to do everything he knew -- and made us do it until he was confident that WE were confident we knew what we were doing. He took us to Sears and bought us both a basic Craftsman tool set.

    Later, my automotive education was advanced by a lesbian I was friends with in college who owned a VW bug; who introduced me to the wonders of a book called (I believe, I'm doing this from memory) "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Volkswagen Beetles" -- which sounds trite today, but (I have not checked this) may have been the VERY FIRST BOOK EVER to use the phrase "idiot's guide." She taught me how to do basic work on shoe/drum brakes. Later, I had a housemate who taught me much more, and I've always tried to learn as much as anyone's willing to teach me on the subject of car repair.

    And I have to give kudos to the shop I have just underwritten to a fantastical extent, for also taking the patient time with me to explain the mysteries of modern (OK, circa 1994) smog equipment and other arcana to identify the zillions of little vacuum hoses protecting my engine like a spider's web. Knowledge is power, and the more I find out about this stuff, the more confident I become when it comes time to rip all that junk off to get at the actual, you know, engine. This way, I understand what I'm yanking off, which makes it easier to put it all back together at the end of the day.

    Anyway, those who know my writing also know that I have a few basic rules. One of which is I try (unless writing a first-person account of momentous occasions such as Barack Obama's inauguration, or other vacation stories) to keep my own personal feelings and personal stories out of what I write. I do this for two reasons: (1) it's pretty boring stuff ("I had a Sausage McMuffin for breakfast today, and my cat did the cutest thing!!!" is NOT what I want to read, so I assume it's not what you folks want to read either); and (2) I really feel this sort of thing is downright unprofessional for what I'm trying to do here. So I do ask everyone's indulgence for my travails with appeasing the gods of auto repair with large sacrifices of money, burnt at the altar of "Those Who Can Do Things On A Car Which I Simply Am Not Technically Advanced Enough To Do Myself" -- an altar, I should point out, that I absolutely HATE worshipping at.

    But after all this (I'm obviously writing yesterday's column here, now that I look back at the pixel-choking length of this comment), I have good news to report here tonight:

    The car is ready to go. Hallelujah! The car, in fact, is in even better shape that it has ever been during our ownership of it -- seriously, things are fixed now which have always been broken!

    Just for Michale, I'm going to go look up a quote.

    "'Ford's in his flivver,' murmured the D.H.C. 'All's well with the world.'"
    -Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

    Anyone interested in the MASSIVE amount of work (both by me, and by the shop) which went into this, ask and I'll type it out. It was "epic" (as the whippersnappers today are wont to say), but I'm getting weary of typing right now.

    And, because to every Yin there is indeed a Yang lurking out there somewhere, I have to close all this on a spiritual (and mechanical) high note (for those who have at least picked up on the flavor of this treatise...), because one of the things I had done by others to the car (oh, the eternal shame... others...) was to replace the turbocharger with one pulled out of a junkyard in better shape than the one which was on the car.

    Now, this is the first car I've ever owned with a turbocharger. When I studied the concept, it at first seemed a contradiction of the fact that a perpetual motion machine is a violation of the basic laws of physics. The pressure from the exhaust gasses turns a little fan, which is attached by a shaft to turn another fan, which pumps air into the intake of the engine. Which is ridiculous -- an electric fan, for instance, cannot power a fan-mounter generator sitting opposite it, to provide the fan's power. It just won't work. But then I remembered there are significant heat/energy events happening in the cylinders themselves which add a considerable amount of energy to the system itself (Newton's Laws just breathed a sigh of relief, there), so everything's actually cool as far as the "tearing of the fabric of the space/time universe, and violating the entropic laws" thing is concerned.

    Long story short (Have I ever uttered those words before? Not sure, but certainly not after a 5,000-word comment, that's for sure...), I requested the old (borderline) turbo unit be returned to me by the shop. As I said, it still (borderline-y) works, so it's worth keeping. When I talked with the master mechanic at the shop, he mentioned in passing that they used to actually rebuild the units, but nobody bothered with that today, and even finding one of these rebuild kits (complete with oil seals, O-rings, and assorted gaskets) were almost impossible to find these days, and wasn't it a shame?

    When I picked my car up, in the back was a big box with the old turbo unit in it. I got it home, and unpacked it.

    Inside was (totally free of charge, this shop rocks, I have to say) one of the turbo rebuild kits. Maybe a mechanic at the shop found one lying around, and since there's not much call for that sort of thing these days, he tossed into my parts box.

    This is a challenge, to both my mechanical abilities, and also to my philosophical ideals about fixing things, rather than just tossing them out and buying some new plastic-ey piece of crap.

    I will not be up to this challenge until I return from plotting the downfall of the Republican Party (and Tea Party, for that matter) from Las Vegas, though.

    But it's something to look forward to, I do have to admit.

    Because, dammit, the core of the entire "recycling" movement is to fix stuff, and not just toss it on the trash-heap the first time something goes wrong with it.

    OK, it's WAY too late at night, and I spent WAY too much time on this, and tomorrow is the marathon we like to call "Friday Talking Points" (around the writing department here), so I'll just wish everyone a good night for now, until the morrow dawns (or, more accurately, for when FTP columns post: "the morrow dusks"...).


  5. [5] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Some good news from Obama...and some bad:

    "With his approval numbers hitting new lows it's no surprise that Barack Obama's numbers in our monthly look ahead to the 2012 Presidential race are their worst ever this month. He trails Mitt Romney 46-43, Mike Huckabee 47-45, Newt Gingrich 46-45, and is even tied with Sarah Palin at 46."

    I wouldn't be too surprised to see Hillary running in 2012.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I wouldn't be too surprised to see Hillary running in 2012.

    I am shocked! Shocked, I say, that you would say such a thing.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Thanks for inspiring the lost CW column!

    And, the rest of your comment was very perceptive, too ... and, right on the money. I would just add that Obama/Biden opponents make up a wide and varied group to include most who call themselves progressives and the Democratic base who have a penchant, it seems, for shooting themselves in the foot!

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:


    I am shocked! Shocked, I say, that you would say such a thing.

    Considering Obama's crappy poll numbers and considering that the worst is yet to come, why would such a thing be shocking??

    You can bet it is likely upper most in Obama's mind..

    About the only way he can prevent this from happening is to offer Clinton the VP slot..

    Even then, Hillary is likely to tell Obama to go pound salt.


  9. [9] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    I am shocked! Shocked, I say, that you would say such a thing.

    It's not like it hasn't been a topic of conversation for journalists and pundits alike lately.

  10. [10] 
    Hawk Owl wrote:

    Elizabeth Miller

    Liz, Thanks for your kind words; I always look for your comments.

    After sending those few sentences about Obama's becoming a "Velcro" President, it stirred some adrenalin within about how the media pundits ~ eternally yearning for the easy story inherent in writing a contest and predicting "Winners" & "Losers"
    ~ can't resist turning the world-as-they-see-it
    into an eternal election campaign so they can
    wallow in narcissistic blogtificating like ESPN

    And underlying that, would be Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" in which the function of the "News" is to keep people distracted from the basic truth, that our lives are so boring & perhaps futile that we welcome "Adrenalin Journalism" . . .

    If you think that's overstatement, just try watching the Weather Channel for two straight hours/
    You're about as likely to see them say "It's a nice day most places; not much is going on" as we are to see a pundit who remarks "We have a deliberative, thoughtful President and it's a relief after 'Adrenalin Foreign Policy" & "Adrenalin Economics'."

  11. [11] 
    Kevin wrote:


    Bravo on your makeup "car column". I miss those days too. While never mechanically adept, I'm still proud of my few repairs that I made through intuition. I was lucky enough to know a few people like you who would do basic maintenance chores for a case of beer or a fraction of the money a garage would charge. Living on a student budget, it made a big difference.
    Since we've established that we're both avid HST fans, I assume you've read his Hell's Angels book. Not as good as Vegas or Campaign Trail IMO, but still an interesting read. What did you think of it?
    Are you departing on Saturday morning, and will you be going through Barstow en route? Got your beer to facilitate the tanning process? Look for bat-crossing highway signs for me :D
    Have a grand time. (Will Mrs. CW be going with you, or are you going solo?).


  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale and CB,

    You two need to lighten up and recognize sarcasm when you read it.


  13. [13] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Maybe that's the problem, Liz. Maybe we're not perceiving sarcasm but something more along the lines of condescension. Maybe we should all lighten up a bit. You good with that?

  14. [14] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Another way to look at it: Obama wanted to pass three major initiatives in this congress and two are DONE. That leaves cap & trade or immigration reform for the hat trick.

  15. [15] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Osborne, I don't think how much you get done matters if what you get done is not what the American people want. Congress is there to represent and serve the people, not to ignore them or force ideological governance upon a majority that's clearly saying "No, thanks." Dems made a big mistake in that department, IMO.

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:


    Another way to look at it: Obama wanted to pass three major initiatives in this congress and two are DONE. That leaves cap & trade or immigration reform for the hat trick.

    Just to echo what CB said...

    "What does it matter if you gain the whole world, but you lose your soul."
    -Mark 8:36

    Yea, I know... I don't think I ever quoted from that particular fantasy novel before.

    The fact is, Obama has sold out America's soul. Time and time again, the will of the American people has been sacrificed on the altar of "change".

    In a way, Obama has accomplished another thing he set out to do.

    He has united the American people.

    He has united them against his own policies and the Democratic Party.

    November is going to be a rout for the Democrats and can't come soon enough.


  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:


    Sorry about that... :D

    My bust... :D


  18. [18] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    CW: "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" by the incomparable Hunter S. Thompson, and then immediately read it without any delay, as there'll be plenty of time to thank me later for the suggestion."

    Oh, the memories of my youth. That book (which started as an article in Rolling Stone magazine) changed my life. Ah, you youngin's really missed it.

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