My near worship of Barack Obama is neither unique nor particularly well-concealed. I keep waiting for something to happen to break the spell, to start the inevitable backlash. But every time I hear his name, he’s doing something at once politically savvy and substantively admirable.

To wit: On Friday, Obama put a hold on Bush’s latest nomination to the EPA, and says he intends to put a hold on all future nominees. Why? He’s sick of the EPA delaying new regulations on remodeling and renovating in houses that contain lead paint. Despite being ordered by Congress in 1992 to release such regulations by 1996, the agency has delayed again and again. Last year the Bush administration even looked into asking industry to adopt voluntary practices, to avoid regulation. (Shocking, I know.)

Obama considered putting a hold on last year’s nomination of Marcus Peacock to the #2 slot at EPA, but held off when folks at the agency assured him they would issue regs by the end of the year. Then, last week, they told him they couldn’t meet the deadline. So he called their bluff and placed the hold. Then:

EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said Friday the agency will meet the Dec. 31 deadline after all.

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“We’re working on doing the rule by the end of the year,” she said.

"Even one child impacted by lead is one child too many."

Obama then demanded that agency officials put that in writing.


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Let us count the ways in which this is a smart move:

First, on a substantive level, lead is a killer. It damages children’s brains irreversibly. Its effects are widespread and pernicious, mostly propagated through old houses with lead in the paint. There’s almost universal agreement that current regulations around lead paint are too lax. Bush and the EPA have been futzing around in the shadows with this stuff, hoping no one would notice. But now that Obama’s thrown a spotlight on it, there’s no defending it.

Second, it’s great local politics. Illinois has the nation’s highest levels of childhood lead poisoning. This is a high-profile stand of direct and immediate benefit to his constituents.

Third, it’s great national politics. This is a golden issue that Dems have left lying unused. Obama spotted it and took it into the end zone (look, ma, my first football analogy!). This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a targeted strike with almost no downside that positions him as courageous and principled.

Fourth, it’s bona fide progressivism. Lead paint is a huge problem in poor neighborhoods. Obama’s standing up for the disadvantaged, giving them a voice. It reminds people what progressives stand for without invoking any of the negative lefty stereotypes.

Day-to-day politics in the trenches, executed with wicked skill. I can’t wait to see what he does next.