Only The Beginning

So here we are today marking President Obama’s first 100 days in office.  This delineation of three plus months is an artificial construct, probably devised by the media to pigeonhole administrations for comparative reasons and attract headline hungry readers.  At any rate, I celebrate President Obama’s tenure so far.  Here is what my cousin Roselie had to say about this, after she took a long, deep breath:

Probably just scratched the surface.  Too much to do.   Let’s see:  there is Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the Taliban, the Taliban in Pakistan, Pakistan’s nukes, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iran, bin Laden, Israel, Cuba, N. Korea, immigration, Mexico drug cartels, guns, unions, trade inequalities, homeland security ,the economic disaster, no health care for half the country and the other half has inferior health care, our bridges, roads and infrastructure are crumbling, our education system stinks, and now a new take on torture. No wonder Larry Summers fell asleep. We do not need one president, we need TEN. Oh, yes, now there’s the swine flu.

A few things we must remember.  First, on the domestic front, no legislation has yet been passed on the bulk of President Obama’s policy agenda.  The stimulus package is really the only enactment we have had so far.  Also, because we were in such dire straits, i.e. imminent bank collapse, housing foreclosures, soaring unemployment rates, a total credit freeze, etc., many of President Obama’s proposals as a part of that stimulus package had to be devised quickly.  This, no doubt, left a lot of room for imperfections in the legislation.  At the time though, the trade-off of speed for content was the better of the two evils.  So perfection will not result, but help is definitely on the way:

Even though there will be many hiccups along the road to recovery, I am most impressed with our President’s behavior and demeanor during this time.  We all know how smart he is just as we recognize the extremely long hours he puts into his job.  We are certainly not out of hot water yet.  Nevertheless, have you noticed how President Obama’s cool, take-control attitude and total transparency with the American public has quelled a bit of our own anxiety?  Even with our plate so full of pressing problems, who could have imagined that piracy and a swine flu epidemic would be the next items on our agenda?  President Obama has dealt with these “surprises” just as well as he handled the already existing ones: with careful analysis, aplomb and calm.  These were  characteristics that our previous President never embodied.  Bush was simply a caretaker, subject to the fantasies and corruption of his cronies.  The phrases “phantom presidency” and “non-engagement” come to mind.  Bush absented himself from the often complicated  affairs of running a nation by a blind adherence to a few points of rhetoric.

Not my Obama.  For our own country, he has literally jumped in to what have very well might have been an abyss, and has come up with much-needed programs.  While some might call these innovations, like universal health care, others recognize these policies for what they are: basic human rights.  President Obama’s philosophical tenets underlie all of his actions.  This holds true for his foreign relation precepts as well.

Thank goodness there have been no international catastrophes yet to deal with.  However, President Obama has made his ideas clear on that front as well, and E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post clarifies this when he writes of “The Obama Doctrine”:

Although Dionne uses the piracy incident as a basis for extrapolating President Obama’s foreign policy, the greater message is understood.  I especially like the last paragraph:

The Obama Doctrine is a form of realism unafraid to deploy American power but mindful that its use must be tempered by practical limits and a dose of self-awareness. Those are the limits that defenders of the recent past have trouble accepting.

This “Obama Doctrine” is equally relevant to our situation at home as it is to our relations with foreign nations.  Fareed Zakaria, in his piece in the Washington Post, summed up nicely why President Obama’s short stay in the White House has been successful:

The Secret of Obama’s Success

No American president in modern memory has faced a learning curve as steep as the one Barack Obama has encountered. When Obama began his quest for the Democratic nomination three years ago, the Dow Jones industrial average was 14,000 and the world was in the midst of a great economic boom. By the time he took office, America’s financial industry was in chaos, credit markets were frozen, housing values were plummeting and the economy was undergoing its worst contraction since the Great Depression. Add to that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and you get an extraordinary set of challenges.

Yet by most measures, President Obama’s first 100 days have been successful. The economy remains weak, of course, but he has put forward a series of initiatives to stabilize the capital and housing markets, proposed longer-term programs to create sustained growth, adjusted America’s military priorities in Afghanistan and Iraq, and begun a process of reaching out to the world and changing America’s image.

Many commentators have focused on his calm leadership style, his deliberative methods and his tight teamwork. That’s all true, but there is a larger explanation for the success so far. Obama has read the country and the political moment correctly. He understands where America is in 2009 and that, as polls show, it is a more liberal country than it was two decades ago.

Conservative commentators have made much of a recent Pew survey showing that public reaction to Obama has been more polarized than to any other president in the past four decades: Democrats really like him, and Republicans really dislike him. But the poll’s most striking statistic was how few Americans self-identify as Republicans. For the past year that rate has hovered around 24 percent, the lowest in three decades. It’s not so much that the Republican base has shrunk, as Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz points out in a recent essay: the Democratic base has expanded. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, the Democratic base was 30 percent of the electorate; swing voters made up 43 percent and Republicans 27 percent. Last year, Democrats made up 41 percent, swing voters dropped to 32 percent and Republicans 27 percent.

Because party loyalties tend not to shift quickly, an 11-point rise for the Democrats is astonishing. Abramowitz argues that since these changes are largely rooted in demography–particularly the growing nonwhite population–they are likely to persist for a while.
Obama has also figured out how to utilize the moment. Rahm Emmanuel’s aphorism — never let a crisis go to waste — has proved a brilliant political strategy. By combining short-term stimulus spending with long-term progressive projects, Obama has confounded the opposition. Senator Judd Gregg was on CNBC last week trying to explain that while he fully supported government spending for 2009 and 2010 to jump-start the economy, his concerns were about 2011 and 2012. That’s a complicated case to make to the electorate.

Just as important, though, is that Obama has not overinterpreted the moment. He has steered a careful middle course on the bank bailouts. The most spirited critiques of his policies have come not from the right but from the left–in the clamor for nationalization. He may or may not have the policy right, but he certainly has the politics right. The country remains generally suspicious of big government and comfortable with free markets and private enterprise. The old Democratic hostility to big business doesn’t resonate so strongly anymore, since the new Democratic coalition includes fewer working-class whites and more college graduates. Obama has handled the public’s anger well, giving voice to outrage but not enacting populist policies. He quietly announced last week that he will not reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement to impose new labor and environmental standards.

On the torture memos, Obama has made clear (after some hesitation) that he does not want to criminalize a policy disagreement. On Iraq, he has hewed to a centrist course, but still one that draws down America’s military presence. On Cuba, Iran and Syria, his overtures have been modest and preliminary. In almost every arena, he has pushed the envelope to change policy, not worrying about the inevitable opposition from the right, yet always in a sober and calculating manner.

Globalization, immigration, more working women and college graduates–all these have changed America over the past two decades. In a detailed study for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin point out that 67 percent of Americans now view the term “progressive” favorably, a 25-point increase in five years. This doesn’t make us a European country — 67 percent also think favorably of the term “conservative” — but it does suggest that things are changing. Obama’s success derives from his understanding of this shift — and his readiness to act on it.

Finally, the next 100 days, and the next after that, and the next, will  be harder.  The academic process of devising new policies and programs includes a certain intellectual and emotional high.  The actual execution and management of those strategies will encompass much controversy and opposition.  That is what is ahead for President Obama.  This does not even take into account any issues that may arise out of the blue, like piracy and the swine flu.  One never knows what is on the horizon.

But if anyone can do it, he can.  So three cheers for the last three months, and a huge dose of confidence and support for the next.  Enjoy the slide show of the most sane, productive and hopeful leadership we have had in a very long time:,29307,1893255_1874076,00.html

I fervently hope for our President’s vibrancy, effectiveness and downright common sense to prevail for the next 2820 days (yes, TWO terms).  His honesty and decency shown on the campaign trail has remained intact and shines in his role as President.  Above all, I want him to be stay safe. With awesome respect and gratitude, I thank you, Mr. President.

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