Politics, Obama-Style

By Dan Froomkin
3:00 PM ET, 05/19/2009

Watching President Obama speak today, I got the sense that this was what he went into politics for.

It wasn't just that it was a gorgeous sunny day in the Rose Garden and he was president of the United States -- though I'm sure that didn't hurt.

It was that he and his team had brought people representing traditionally conflicting views together to agree on something that represents real progress in a way that not so long ago would have seemed impossible.

For Obama, a community organizer at heart, politics isn't just a zero-sum game. It's not always about winning at someone else's expense. The best moments are when everyone wins.

The problem is that such moments haven't ever been particularly common in Washington -- and they still aren't. Most of Obama's biggest political victories thus far have been fought and won along traditional party lines.

But today's announcement, Obama insisted, "represents not only a change in policy in Washington but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington."

In this particular case, Obama was celebrating an agreement over tough new standards for fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions. The agreement requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg in 2016, with fuel economy gains averaging more than 5 percent per year. It also establishes the first nationwide regulation of greenhouse gases.

So who was there? "This is an extraordinary gathering," Obama said. "Here we have today standing behind me, along with Ron Gettlefinger and leadership of the UAW, we have 10 of the world's largest auto manufacturers, we have environmental advocates, as well as elected officials from all across the country.

"And this gathering is all the more extraordinary for what these diverse groups -- despite disparate interests and previous disagreements -- have worked together to achieve. For the first time in history, we have set in motion a national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new trucks and cars sold in the United States of America....

"Now, in the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. It's no secret that these are folks who've occasionally been at odds for years, even decades. In fact, some of the groups here have been embroiled in lawsuits against one another. So that gives you a sense of how impressive and significant it is that these leaders from across the country are willing to set aside the past for the sake of the future."

Obama spoke of how the need to end our oil dependence has too often been lost "in the back-and-forth of Washington politics" and "in arguments where the facts opponents use depend on the conclusions they've already reached." What's needed is "a willingness to look past our differences, to act in good faith, to refuse to continue the failures of the past, and to take on this challenge together."

John M. Broder writes in the New York Times: "Environmentalists called it a long-overdue tightening of emissions and fuel economy standards after decades of government delay and industry opposition. Auto industry officials said it would provide the single national efficiency standard they have long desired, a reasonable timetable to meet it and the certainty they need to proceed with product development plans....

"'This is a very big deal,' said Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, who has pushed for tougher mileage and emissions standards for two decades with the goal of curbing the gases that have been linked to global warming. 'This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.'"

John Hughes and Kim Chipman write for Bloomberg: "'It launches a new beginning,' said David McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a statement. 'The president has succeeded in bringing three regulatory bodies, 15 states, a dozen automakers and many environmental groups to the table.'"

Steven Mufson writes for The Washington Post: "The deal has been under negotiation since the first days of the administration. It represents a compromise among the White House, the state of California and the auto industry, which has long sought national mileage standards and has waged an expensive legal battle against the California waiver. The industry will get its national standard, but at the price of one that approximates California's targets. Industry officials said they would drop all related lawsuits...

"Today's announcement marks a major change in tone from the Bush administration, which had rejected California's waiver in March 2008, barring states from setting their own limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles."

But James R. Healey of USA Today calls it a "fragile compromise among often-warring factions."

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