President Obama is on a "White House to Main Street tour" in the Midwest right now, and he couldn't have picked a better time to get out of Washington.
The nation's capital, at the moment, is a rather unappealing place. The Senate Banking subcommittee chaired by Sen. Carl Levin held a 10 hour, 41 minute hearing yesterday in which senators lobbed accusation/questions at Goldman Sachs executives. Many agree that the hearing amounted to pure theater, which, coincidentally, is true for most congressional hearings.
In the past week, the parties have sought to outdo each other in vilifying Wall Street. In the past 48 hours, financial reform has failed to advance in the Senate not once, but twice, on separate procedural votes. The Senate will hold another vote today, and the same result is expected.
Congress's approval rating typically is low, but last month it reached a nadir. A CBS poll in late March showed only 14 percent of Americans approving of Congress, and a Pollster.com chart shows that, according to an average of major polls, Congress's popularity was lower in March than it had been at any point during the past year. It has recovered a bit since then; CBS now shows 17 percent approval, and other polls give a higher number.
So it's no wonder that, at the time of this posting, Obama is in Quincy, Illinois, roughly 850 miles from the Capitol and the White House. Obama touched down there this morning, having spent the night in Des Moines, Iowa after giving a speech at the Siemens wind turbine manufacturing plant in Fort Madison yesterday.
"I'm not going to let this [financial reform] effort fall victim to industry lobbyists who want to weaken it, water it down and kill it and snuff it out and stomp on it and whatever else they want to do to it," Obama said yesterday during a town-hall meeting at Indian Hills Community College.
It was reminiscent of the rhetoric Obama used on the campaign trail, and again during the health care debate: badmouth lobbyists, and demonize the insider game that takes place on the Hill. (The strategy has been good to Obama, as it has to other politicians before him. If fewer than one in five Americans likes Congress, how many like lobbyists?)
Obama will return to the White House tonight having visited Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. Today he will tour a biorefining facility in Macon, Missouri; visit a family-operated farm in Palmyra, Missouri; and give a speech on Wall Street reform in Quincy before flying home. That's after his tour of the wind turbine plant, the community college town-hall, and another stop at a local business yesterday in Iowa.
The schedule has a distinctly rural flavor. Obama's previous visits to this part of the Midwest have involved stops in suburban St. Louis. Today, he's in small towns.
Marc has pointed out that Obama has tried to make the financial reform bill his own, in the eyes of the public, but that congressional Democrats are the ones who truly own it. Obama, to be sure, is discussing the need for Wall Street regulations and stumping for the advent of a consumer financial protection agency on his trip to the Midwest; but with multiple failed votes and a new law slow to percolate, it seems the best place Obama can be right now is as far from Capitol Hill, and its morass, as possible.
And that's exactly where he is.