Barack Is Back

Inspiring oratory reminds Americans why they chose him to fix this mess.

The Change-o-Meter is now a widget. You can add it to your blog, Web site, or profile with just a few clicks. (Shortcut for Facebook here.) Each time we publish a new column, the widget will automatically update to reflect the latest score.

Obama was back on the campaign trail last night, dusting off his oratorical powers in a nationally televised address to Congress, sparking an increase in his already high public approval ratings and getting some love from commentators as well. But with the housing market doing worse than expected last month and new nuclear stirrings in Iran, all the goodwill in the world won’t do the president any good if he can’t spur some action on the litany of problems that face America. A good speech and a smooth Cabinet confirmation get Obama 20 points on the Change-o-Meter.

According to several quick polls taken just after the speech, Americans liked it. A CBS poll showed that while 63 percent approved of Obama’s plan for the economic crisis before the speech, the number jumped to 80 percent immediately after. In addition, a CNN poll indicated that two-thirds of those who watched the speech responded positively to it. Pundits liked the speech, too, with Roger Simon of Politico calling it “Churchillian.” Early estimates from Nielsen report that 33.6 million people watched the speech, a significant increase over George W. Bush’s last State of the Union but significantly fewer than some of Bush’s other televised speeches. But there’s a reason we don’t call this thing the Hope-o-Meter. Team Obama gets 15 points for soothing the fears of the American public, but they’ll need to take action quickly before the public’s patience runs out.

In Cabinet news, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was confirmed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate yesterday. It was smooth sailing in the end, despite initial skepticism by Republicans, for which we’ll toss in 5 points. And with his new, uncontroversial Commerce pick just announced, the president has just one more major Cabinet decision to make: Health and Human Services.

Home sales are at their slowest rate in more than a decade, with the median price at its lowest since 2003. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and the housing industry hopes Obama’s new plan for mortgages will help keep more foreclosed homes from reaching the market.

Even as national focus remains on the economy, Obama will have to address Iran’s first successful test of a nuclear power plant, which was completed with Russian aid. Though both countries insist that the plant is purely for energy purposes, the United States and several Western European countries have always been suspicious of Iran’s nuclear motives. Obama may have to engage the Iranians soon.

There’s a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.