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Politics, Obama-Style

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 19, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Let's Talk White House
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All the Israelis have to do is to stop expanding settlements, stop building outposts, and indicate a willingness to trade their 1967 conquests for peace. And they'lll have to share sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Old City. That's a all they have needed to do to have peace discussions with parties other than the Palestinians for the past 16 years. Hopefully, Obama will put an end to the kind of American toleration of Israeli stonewalling that the previous two administrations did.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | May 19, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

hey it's about time our nation takes steps to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. hurrah to team obama. this is one of the many reasons i voted for obama.

Posted by: rmorris391 | May 19, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it odd that Obama can bring all these people to the same table today, and get them to work together to clean up the air, reduce our dependance on foreign oil, reduce carbon emissions. And all the Republicans do is complain, and the fact that their party base is smaller by day seems to elude them. They wonder why they will continue to lose in 2010.

Posted by: MAC14 | May 19, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

While I watched the event announcing the increased fuel standards, I kept thinking how Obama is a consensus builder. Then I realized that I've seen the Republican governor Schwazzenegger more often with Obama than I ever saw him with Bush.

Posted by: Anadromous2 | May 19, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I think I disappeared my comment after "Preview". As I was saying, I will believe it when I see it, if a fatal asthma attack or heart attack doesn't kill me from the smog/ozone and particulate matter before the regs kick in. So many flip flops, I am not with much hope after the cameras leave and the PR is over.

Posted by: NYCartist | May 19, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse


So in theory, this meand we will be burning less and less gasoline and oil in America by 2016, correct? And as a result, we will spend less of our hard-earned $$ on fueling our cars, because we:
1.) fill up less often
2.) pump prices go down because supply is up)

As Lee Corso usually says: "Not so fast, my friend."

The bigger picture is being missed here:
So, if our consumption of oil goes down, so does the total tax revenue to the Fed and the States. How will road improvement projects be funded if tax revenue continues to go down? You could probably bed your mortgage that the tax rates will definitely go up, so the State and Federal government keep that revenue stream flowing.... then we won't be saving that much at the pump, even if we are pumping less. Our fuel prices might start to resemble those of the U.K.

Posted by: alutz08 | May 19, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The next question will be.... will the people of the country buy these little putt-putt cars, provided that they still have a free-market choice in vehicles?

Now I do know that the Camry and Fusion Hybrid's of this year do achieve the 35.5 MPG rating, but in order for the full fleet of vehicles offered by a single manufacturer to achieve that average, they need small golf carts that will get 50+ mpg, so larger family vehicles and trucks can continue to be produced.

One cannot work a farm with a Toyota echo.
Independent Contractors and handymen cannot perform their trade without something larger than a chevy Volt.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.... hopefully the highway fatality rate will not skyrocket because of smaller cars getting run-over by larger trucks. try looking up the youtube video of a SMART car collision with a Mercedes sedan.... and trust me, you'd rather be in the Benz than the smart car. (saving $$ at the pump is not more important than saving your own or your family's life)

Posted by: alutz08 | May 19, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Easy to build "consensus" when you have a gun to some one's head. Notice who is going to be paying for this. Surprise taxpayers. No one is going to be able to afford a car or gas so I guess that will cut down on emissions.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | May 19, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

It's laughable to see the familiar right-wingers on this blog cast about for ways in which this historic agreement that helps the country's balance of payments, our environment AND makes our automakers more competitive will adversely impact tax revenue, fatality rates, oil prices, and so on.

Never mind that these posts reveal an appalling lack of coherence or logic. After all, isn't that the hallmark of Republican "thinking" in these times?

Posted by: sambam | May 19, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Funny how they don't complain about faster computers, better cell phones, more cable channels and blue ray systems on huge tv screens, but try to increase the efficiency and performance of cars and trucks and the wingnuts have total scrotal infarctions. Alutz up there even Freudian slipped a bit, maybe someone wants to get Obama in bed?

Posted by: sparkplug1 | May 19, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Passenger vehicles and light trucks, alutz08. The kinds of cars you can drive with a standard operator's license, the kind that people tend to drive. Not specialized vehicles like tractor trailers or just plain tractors, for the farm you so lovingly mentioned. Please apply a little comprehension and common sense to what you read.

Besides, I can imagine you warning against the foolishness of technological goals at times past: doing your best to dissuade the Wright brothers from the foolishness of their flying machine. Desperate to convince JFK that putting a man on the moon, or the drive toward space in general, would contribute nothing meaningful to science or society. Prophesying that something as weird and incredible as the desktop microcomputer could never come to exist.

One thing I appreciate about Obama: while he's outlining his major goals: universal health care, green energy, improved education; he moves on smaller goals, like ending torture, realigning the foreign deployments, and this. (And for the record, I'm on board with the Democrats refusing to fund the closure of Guantanamo until Obama has a plan for the detainees. That's only sensible.)

Posted by: whizbang9a | May 19, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Was Big John there as well? That would be the Hon. John Boehner. Him of the permanent tan and mental cramp on most things environmental (except the hot air he produces in copious amounts). He had this to say on ABC last month:

"The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know when they do what they do you've got more carbon dioxide."

Posted by: mendonsa | May 19, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

wow... amazing the lack of thinking that goes on here... just people who are extremely quick to attack someone who doesn't worship the ground that Froomkin and obama walk on.

There are too many point to rebutt, so I'll hit some of the low hangers...
For whizbang9a:
My reference to Trucks= pickup trucks and SUVs. Also I am not talking about farm tractors or Big Rig Semi's. Completely different class. Typically ranchers and farmers will use these light trucks as their everyday vehicles around their property... and a golf cart type car can't be used to handle the day to day tasks.

As for highway collisions, it is a proven FACT that larger cars protect its occupants better than smaller & lighter cars in collisions. NHSI has proved this year over year. Since Obama's plan to reduce emmisions only applies to passenger vehicles and not to large commercial trucks.... accidents involving the two classes of vehicles would most assuredly cause a strong uptick in serious injury and death rates. How safe would you feel in a little SMART car driving I-81 in between a few 18 wheelers?

But seeing how you don't want to debate the merits of my arguments, and would rather play with absurdities such as fear of technology advancement... then go ahead and live in your little dream world.

Government, according to our founders was never intended to be as large and far reaching as it is now. The Government reaches beyond its constitutional granted powers, infringes on State's rights, and puts more roadblocks in the freedoms of ordinary citizens than there are minutes in a week. Should a strong federal government have this kind of power to take over public companies such as those in the auto industry as an example? If you ask Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and many others, you would find a the response to be a resounding NO.

Posted by: alutz08 | May 20, 2009 3:35 AM | Report abuse

I don't want my car to get 35 mpg and go slow. I want the car I have, which goes fast and gets 17mpg. Why? Because that is what I want and last time I looked, one could make up their own mind in the US. That was until Obama came along. Get rid of this moron.

Posted by: mmourges | May 20, 2009 6:47 AM | Report abuse

I don't want my house to look like all the rest. I want to paint it bright orange and use 2kW of electricity every night on a year-round light display. Why? Because that is what I want and last time I looked, one could make up their own mind in the US. That was until Obama came along. Get rid of this moron.

(in case the sarcasm goes over your head, here's the point - when what you do affects others, it's no longer up to your personal preferences. Wake up.)

Posted by: BigTunaTim | May 20, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

big tuna,

how is someone else driving a car that gets 17 MPG affect you? Are you concerned about his gas consumption? Get real. This is America and he has the right to spend his money in any manner he wishes, as long as it is legal.

I'm sure I would disapprove of many of you spending habits and lifestyle choices, and you would have every right to tell me to mind my own business.

Obama is way over the line with these "regulations." He's the President, not a king, and his powers are enumerated in the Constitution, as are Congress'.

Posted by: ptandcarol | May 20, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

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