Economic Empathy Tour ‘09

Obama hits the road as he signs the stimulus package, while Clinton goes to Japan.

The administration asks the auto industry to “help me help you,” and the secretary of state’s first diplomatic visit is going swimmingly. But bad news from other corners of the world brings doubts about Obama’s influence abroad. And in the “On the Beach as nonfiction” department, nuclear submarines are playing bumper cars at 20,000 leagues. All told, Obama and his team rack up a 13 on the Change-o-Meter today.

Before heading to Arizona to continue Economic Empathy Tour ‘09, Obama will make a pit stop in Denver today to sign the much-awaited stimulus package (which, at a measly $787 billion, comes a little cheaper than he might have hoped). Obama is probably pleased as punch to see his first big policy push succeed, but the ‘Meter is withholding points until it sees some visible stimulation. We were going to toss in a few points for the salary caps for bank CEOs that Sen. Chris Dodd slipped into the bill, but that provision is looking suspect since the White House isn’t onboard.

Obama announced that he will not appoint a “car czar” to oversee the auto industry makeover but will instead put the onus on a team of trusty senior officials, including Tim Geithner and Larry Summers (who evidently don’t have enough to do already). The announcement came on the eve of the deadline for GM and Chrysler to submit their drowning-prevention plans, the quality of which will determine the Treasury’s first round of life jacket funding for the auto giants. Ten points for forcing American car companies to attempt to put together a viable survival plan, not to mention the avoidance of having to call anyone a “car czar.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was welcomed warmly in Japan yesterday (even as that nation’s unpopular finance minister resigned amid rumors of being hammered during a G7 news conference). Clinton’s choice of Tokyo as her first stop on her first diplomatic visit was a big symbolic victory for Japan, which has been feeling like the last kid picked for dodgeball since Madam Secretary’s husband infamously “passed” the island in 1998. With Japan’s export-reliant economy flailing, Clinton sought to reassure the country of its importance to the United States, calling the alliance a “cornerstone” of American foreign policy. Clinton is the first secretary of state in almost 50 years to make East Asia part of the first diplomatic visit, so 10 more points on the ‘Meter for a good sense of timing.

Elsewhere in the world, things are not so warm and fuzzy. Hugo Chavez seems unconvinced that Obama is much different from George W. Bush, and now that Venezuelans have awarded him the ability to be president forever, it seems certain he’ll be around to accuse Obama of the devil’s stench for at least another term. And in Pakistan, the government has agreed to implement strict Islamic law in the Swat valley region, essentially conceding the territory to the Taliban militants who have successfully fought off the Pakistani military in between bombing schools and beheading policemen. The move is a huge blow to Obama, who has repeatedly emphasized the necessity of a Pakistani commitment to combating extremism within their borders. The Change-o-Meter drops seven points under the nagging familiarity of foreign leaders finding American advisements less than persuasive.

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.