By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Maybe Barack Obama really is The One.
Yesterday's news was good -- almost supernaturally so.
The economy? Recovering.
The markets? Rallying.
Swine flu? Abating.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared his confidence that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are well secured. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee declared his confidence that a massive health-care overhaul will be accomplished this year. Warren Buffett declared his confidence that the economy is "out of the quicksand." And the Supreme Court was confident enough about the state of the nation to turn its attention to Janet Jackson's breasts.
Call it good policy, as Democrats do, or beginner's luck, as the last remaining Republicans do, but you can practically hear the nation collectively exhaling.
The rapid improvement in the public's mood is without precedent in modern history. Last week's Washington Post poll found that 50 percent of Americans think things are generally going in the right direction, up from only 8 percent in early October. That's the quickest change in optimism since the question was first asked by The Post in 1980. Views of President Obama, in turn, were impossibly high: Ninety percent called him willing to listen to different views, and better than 70 percent called him a strong leader, honest and trustworthy, and understanding of people's problems.
And that was before happiness started busting out all over yesterday.
First came news from Mexico that swine flu cases were diminishing, and from U.S. authorities that the virus is, for now, less severe than feared. "The feeling from federal officials seems to be one of relief today," NBC's Matt Lauer said on the "Today" show.
"We're seeing encouraging signs," agreed Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Next item: The Commerce Department reported an increase in construction spending after five months of decline. And the National Association of Realtors reported a higher-than-expected increase in sales for the second straight month. That, and Buffett's out-of-the-quicksand remark at his Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, sent the Dow Jones industrial average up 214 points for the day. For those keeping score, that's a 6 percent increase since the market tanked on Inauguration Day.
The cable news chatterers shared their happy thoughts. "Nice to hear good news out of the housing market," said a CNBC anchor.
"There's some good news on the swine flu front," reported an MSNBC anchor.
Even bad news became good news on CNN, as weatherman Rob Marciano put a favorable spin on the endless rain on the East Coast. "The good news," he said, "is that the ongoing multiyear drought that the Southeast has been dealing with is pretty much over."
Obama may get some credit for the economy, and maybe even the response to swine flu and his orders for Navy snipers to shoot those Somali pirates. But he probably can't claim responsibility for the weather -- unless, that is, he has been sent here by a Higher Authority.
Perhaps he wasn't joking at last year's Al Smith dinner in New York when he said: "Contrary to the rumors you may have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-El, to save the planet Earth."
Whatever the cause, the confidence was contagious. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman, gave a news conference and labeled himself "very satisfied" with Pakistan's efforts to keep its nuclear weapons away from terrorists. One of the reporters observed that Mullen seemed "much more optimistic than you've been" about Pakistan.
Also yesterday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was on television talking about her confidence that most of the remaining 54,000 jobs at Chrysler will be saved despite its bankruptcy filing. And Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, in a conference call, said that "all of us agree that the stars are maybe finally aligned this year compared with prior years for the passage of meaningful, comprehensive health-care reform."
The chairman was in such good spirits that he proposed to "give everybody my personal e-mail address," then directed them to an EarthLink address.
It seemed the only ones left out of the celebration were the Republicans, who continued to discuss their wounds. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, was on TV talking about the party's setbacks, about how "we've certainly taken our licks" and how the party "needs to be more inclusive."
The newspaper industry was also left out of the good-cheer parade, because of the New York Times Co.'s threats to close the Boston Globe.
But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, at his daily briefing, wasn't about to let this "sadness" ruin the festivities. He took the opportunity to tweak reporters for mocking Obama's plan to cut a mere $100 million from Cabinet agencies' budgets. "I wondered how you guys didn't think $100 million meant a lot a few weeks ago, but, looking at some of the balance sheets, $100 million seems to mean a lot," Gibbs taunted.
Gibbs should guard against getting too cocky: Even if his boss is The One, there's no guarantee the good news will continue.
Maybe that's why the government has scheduled the release of its "stress tests" of the nation's largest banks for Thursday -- the National Day of Prayer.