Friday, May 15, 2009

100 Days

The first one hundred days of a Presidency has become one of the earliest measurements of how well a new President is doing in office. The tradition comes from the amazing first one hundred days of the Franklin Roosevelt Presidency when he introduced a dizzying set of legislative proposals that laid the foundation for his fight against the Depression and ushered in a New Deal for both the Presidency and the nation. One hundred days has become shorthand for " he doing anything? How is he doing? Does he know what he is doing? Does he have any idea? Do we have hope?...etc." It is an artificial and arbitrary measurement for which scholars are totally mixed in their opinions as to whether what happens in these first hundred days sets the agenda for the rest of a Presidential term. Be that as it may, you will hear nothing but talk from radio and TV about the first one hundred days of the Obama Administration and those doing the opining will divine, from the first hundred days tea leaves, everything from the future of the economic health of this nation to the success the U.S. will have in Iraq and Afghanistan and how history will judge Obama in his tenure. These are some pretty powerful leaves if I say so myself. So, being the sheep and lemming that I am, I will wade into the leaves and attempt to assess how well our President is doing and the implications for the future of our nation and the world. I also invite you to add your thoughts to this unscientific and totally subjective measurement, so that together we can get a sense where this nation is headed under this new administration. In every resume guide, job advice column or during employment counseling, prospective employees are told that first impressions matter a great deal. So what kind of first impression do we get of the President from one hundred days of performance? The best way to answer that is from the President's own mouth. At a nationally televised press conference, the President was asked why he had not commented quickly when he heard about the bonuses AIG was paying some of it's executives after receiving federal bailout money. The President responded "...I like to know what I am talking about before I speak." How refreshing to have a President who doesn't say "...bring 'em on" or "...we will get them dead or alive". Or how about "Mission Accomplished"? The impression that this President presents so far is that of a man who thought about what he wished to do as President and is doing it. He did not expect the economic meltdown left to him by his predecessor to be as deep and serious as it is; but he clearly has a plan and is sticking to it. He gives the impression of optimism and that he really believes he can turn things around; and despite the horrible economy, he never wanders far from his three central goals of reforming the health care system, reducing dependency on foreign oil, and fixing the education problems this nation faces. He gives the impression that adults are again in charge, and the children have been sent to bed. First impressions are important, but ultimately substance is what we are looking for from this man. There are three areas of substance to examine and from which to draw initial conclusions: domestic policy, foreign policy, and relations with Congress(without which you cannot accomplish much in the above mentioned policy areas). The President has set out an ambitious domestic policy agenda. He says he has a plan to restore the financial system to health, create millions of new jobs(many of them from emerging "green" industries), and keep as many Americans in their homes as possible. He also wants to fund an education system that prepares our children for the challenges of a new technological era and reinvent a health care system in which Americans pay more for health care than any other people on earth, but get half the benefits. In the first one hundred days, the President has been focused almost exclusively on the economy. He has proposed a huge fiscal stimulus package. He has given hundreds of billions of dollars to the financial sector. He has sent hundreds of billions of dollars to states and local governments for infrastructure projects which will create thousands of new jobs. He is proposing new regulations and expanded oversight of banks, brokerage houses, and hedge funds; and he has appointed an aggressive new head of the SEC. His critics on the Progressive side accuse him of timidity, not going far enough, limited vision, and being ideologically kidnapped by the likes of economic advisors Lawrence Summers and Fed Chief Ben Bernanke. I don't know if any of his plans will work. Will massive deficits lead to runaway inflation? Will the money get in place fast enough to create new jobs soon? Will he be able to get banks lending again? Will all this focus on the economy derail his ambitious plans about health care, energy and education? The one clear image this President presents is that he is focused and sticking to his plan; and he believes it will work. What is also clear is that his loyal opposition has literally no idea or plan at all. The Republicans issued a 13 page budget proposal that was laughed out of town. They have been reduced to carping on the sidelines about deficits and big government and increased taxes. They have all been given a memory potion from Harry Potter that has made them forget that they presided over eight years of government growth, foreign adventurism , and an explosion of debt unequaled by any Democratic plan in history. Many of us would like to see the President declare "...the era of unregulated, free market capitalism is over"; but he does not seem ready to blow it all up and start again. He might get there one day, but not yet. The first one hundred days on the foreign policy front are an equally mixed message, but with some very positive signs and one serious negative policy so far. The President has ordered the closing of Guantanamo Prison within a year. He has announced that most American troops will be out of Iraq by 2011. He has signed an executive order prohibiting the CIA from using torture as an interrogation technique. He sent a video message to Iran indicating his willingness to talk with that regime; while telling Israel that they no longer can do anything they wish to the Palestinians and be ignored by the White House. He has signaled a change in our policy toward Cuba, shook Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's hand and was received as a rock star on his first European tour. However, the President has committed himself to escalating the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and escalating the violence associated with that conflict. Without a definition of victory nor an exit strategy, the President has committed the U.S. to a war that cannot be "won" and has made the same mistake his predecessors have made. He has not asked the American people whether they want this or not. He is making the same mistakes made in Vietnam and Iraq by engaging in in war without first getting the people behind his concept. He has not explained that the Taliban are not "outsiders" like Al Qaeda was in Iraq, but rather is composed of mainly members of the Pashtun tribe, which is the majority in Afghanistan. He has not explained the role Pakistan plays in this war; and he has not explained how he will achieve victory or even what victory looks like. Just this week the Pakistani government made a deal with he Taliban allowing them to impose "Sharia" law in the Swat Valley in return for a peace treaty. The result has he Taliban calling for the end of secular courts in the whole nation and the establishment of an Islamic Fundamentalist government. The President's decision to increase American troops in Afghanistan could come back to haunt him and us. It is the only decision of his first hundred days that could derail his international popularity and his domestic agenda. In his first one hundred days in office President Obama has instilled confidence in the middle of a disaster. He appears calm and upbeat at a time when Americans need hope and don't need a Cassandra declaring that the sky is falling. He appears to know where he wants the nation to go and how to get there. He has called for this to be a bipartisan effort, but so far that call has been ignored; which brings us to his last grade on how well he is getting along with Congress. In these first days the President has taken unprecedented steps to seek out Republican input and ideas. He has invited the GOP leadership to meetings in the White House, backyard barbeques, and even a Super Bowl Party. He has not engaged in overheated partisan rhetoric despite being at the receiving end of a great deal of rancor and criticism. Republicans refused to support his economic rescue package or his budget. The titular head of the GOP, Rush Limbaugh, publicly hopes Obama will fail. Without any counter proposals, the Republicans are left with only one role, obstructionists. They will use the filibuster in the Senate to stop legislation and their policy approach will be anything but what Obama wants. Democrats will oppose Obama on some things; but he has to hold them together on his key pieces of legislation. He held them together for votes on his stimulus package and budget. Whether they fracture and end up stopping him as they did with Carter and Clinton remains to be seen. The first one hundred days finds Obama's approval rating at 70% in a new ABC poll; with most Americans thinking he is on the right track and has a plan. He has restored some of America's reputation and signaled a new beginning between the U.S. and it's allies and enemies. He could make a tragic mistake with Afghanistan; but overall most Americans see a clear difference between him and George Bush and they like what they see. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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