Balancing Act

Foreign leaders criticize U.S economic plans, but the economy continues to show glimmers of hope.

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President Obama faced tough questions on his new budget and economic-recovery plans during a nationally televised press conference last night and woke up today to criticism from the European Union and Mexico. But the public still loves him, and Wall Street’s sustained rally is alleviating a little of the doom and gloom. The good and the bad almost cancel each other out, giving Obama a paltry 5 points on the Change-o-meter today.

During Obama’s second major prime-time news conference, reporters pressed the president about his first budget plan and his solutions to economic woes plaguing the country. Reporters asked no questions about Iraq or Afghanistan, focusing almost exclusively on the economy. The event felt particularly somber compared with Obama’s spate of more lighthearted appearances over the last week, presenting his NCAA bracket on ESPN and chatting with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Some have accused Obama of wasting his time with trivial matters to appeal to the American public (which still views him favorably and seems to like his many appearances), overexposing himself, and not focusing on the problems at hand. Either way, Obama’s media (over)exposure represents a change from the last couple of administrations—he’s already had half as many prime-time press conferences as both Bush and Clinton did in their entire eight-year tenures—even if he isn’t saying anything surprising. The ‘Meter awards 10 points for style and immediately subtracts five for lack of substance, for a total of five points.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, the current president of the European Union, called Obama’s plan to stimulate spending as a way out of the recession a “road to hell.” The harsh rhetoric is the toughest so far from a European leader, many of whom have reservations about the U.S. plan for economic recovery. The ‘Meter doesn’t lose too much sleep fretting over the approval of all 27 EU nations but still deducts five points for this distraction.

Spirits are up, however, on Wall Street, with stocks continuing to rally after news that home sales rose in February, the first increase in seven months. Orders for major manufactured goods were up last month as well. While it’s obscenely early to declare a ratification of Obama’s policies, hope in the markets unquestionably boosts his political capital. The ‘Meter awards 10 points.

To the south, Mexico’s economic problems, plus rampant drug violence fueled by American weapons and America’s drug appetite, are straining its relations with the United States. Obama said earlier this month that he would consider deploying the National Guard to parts of the border to contain drug-related violence on the U.S. side and promised a plan “within a few months.” Now it looks as if the decision can’t wait. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mexico today, and Obama plans to visit in April, but the ‘Meter docks the administration five points for not taking more aggressive measures to shore up relations with Mexico. As if the administration needed another problem to deal with.

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