Obama: Assessing the first 100 days

The public is impressed with President Obama and his cool confidence, with polls showing that two of three Americans approve of his performance. What do the pundits say?

“No presidency is truly defined in its first 100 days,” said Dan Balz in The Washington Post, but as he passed that milestone this week, Barack Obama already has made this much clear: He has grand ambitions—perhaps grander than any president in history. Taking office in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, Obama faced a choice between responding aggressively to the crisis or trying to enact the broad reform agenda he outlined during his campaign. He decided to pursue both. Just a few weeks into his term, said Carolyn Lochhead in the San Francisco Chronicle, the new president signed “the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history—the nearly $800 billion fiscal stimulus that reshapes the role of government in energy, education, health care, infrastructure, and science.” He acted boldly to save and downsize the ailing auto industry and rescue millions of Americans from possible mortgage foreclosures. As he draws down troops from Iraq, he’s moving more into Afghanistan. So far, the public is impressed with the man and his cool confidence, with polls showing that two of three Americans approve of Obama’s performance.

We’ve yet to see any real results, said David Broder in The Washington Post, but it’s hard not to be impressed with this man. Nothing in Obama’s previous 47 years—as a lawyer, writer, and legislator—indicated he could run an enterprise of any kind, let alone one as massive and complicated as the U.S. government. Yet he’s already displayed “a mastery of the art of managing the presidency.” Obama is superbly organized, has hired smart people, delegates well, and comes to decisions logically and promptly. His calm, measured demeanor in all circumstances is reassuring at a troubled time, said Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek. So is his willingness to steer a reasonable, middle course by slowly withdrawing from Iraq, avoiding bank nationalization, and ordering Guantánamo closed over the course of a year, without releasing its dangerous detainees.

Call Obama reasonable if you like, said E. Thomas McClanahan in The Kansas City Star, but this is a president doomed to failure. He “wants to please everyone,” which makes it impossible for him to do what good presidents—and any good manager—must do: set priorities. “He wants to do everything at once,” and as a result, he’s sticking us with “a decade of trillion-dollar deficits.” There’s a word for this kind of ambition, said Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online, and it is “arrogance.” Obama sees government—indeed, himself—as the solution to everything, and has assumed the right “to take over corporations, tax the air we breathe, and set wages for everybody.” And by dismantling restrictions on abortion and stem-cell research, he’s shown himself to be “more of a left-wing culture warrior than George W. Bush was a right-wing one.”

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Actually, if Obama’s first 100 days have proved anything, said Gerald F. Seib in The Wall Street Journal, “it is that he is a hard man to classify.” Yes, he is promoting big-government solutions to domestic problems, and has offered a new start to hostile regimes abroad. But in nearly all matters, he’s more of “a left-center hybrid” than a conventional liberal, a pragmatist who believes more in results than ideology. If the president’s ambitious pragmatism proves successful, said Chuck Todd in MSNBC.com, “our grandchildren will spend money with Obama’s face on it.” If he fails, he could be a one-term president. When history judges Barack Obama, he will either be “a spectacular success—or a spectacular failure.”

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