The news media and punditry are aflutter recording and dissecting the much-touted First 100 Days of the Obama Administration. Analyses range from supplicating adoration to vitriolic condemnation. I regard the 100 Day watermark as an artificial and largely meaningless political unit of measure, however I can’t pass up the opportunity it provides to slow down and take the administration’s pulse. The metaphor is apt.
President Obama has been almost manic in his pace of governing. With energy I’m sure he hopes appears energetic and fresh but may in fact be haphazard and frenzied, he has tackled numerous issues and demonstrated a significant shift from the policies of the Bush administration, some good, and some bad. But the political rock star may find himself burning out if he keeps spending political capital at his current pace, something that is being tacitly acknowledged by his administration’s recently expanding "back burner" list of issues the president does not consider a priority (among them gun-control and international trade reform).
His biggest domestic accomplishments to date have been the passage of the much-debated stimulus plan and the massive budget that immediately followed. The president was firm in his support for these mammoth spending measures and as a result he betrayed his campaign promises of "fiscal responsibility" and frightened already skittish moderate Democrats in Congress. Token demonstrations, such as the laughable Fiscal Responsibility Summit and his demand for the members of his Cabinet to cut $100 million in spending (which would cut the projected 2009 deficit by a paltry .006%) have done little to reverse his new spendthrift image.
In foreign policy, he has begun his promised global outreach, opening dialogue with hostile leaders in both hemispheres. His infamous handshake with Chavez and silence during tag-team haranguing of US policy by a collection of South American thugs during a summit has not sat well with many. Nor was he helped when Fidel Castro flatly stamped out the hopes of many of both the American right and left of an opening of Cuba when he stated that the communist nation would not reciprocate Obama’s goodwill gestures by releasing political prisoners. North Korea has grown more aggressive and less cooperative, launching a missile, ejecting nuclear inspectors and withdrawing from multilateral talks.
The president has released memos detailing enhanced interrogation techniques that has generated fierce debate. Whether you agree with the release of these memos or not, it was politically an ill-advised battle to pick. Already the hypocrisy of his own party is being exposed as leading Democrats who both knew of and approved the techniques in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks are now demanding prosecutions for Bush administration officials who implemented them (see here). Additionally, he has made himself and his party vulnerable to a significant backlash should another attack occur on American soil.
Republicans, for whom innumerable obituaries were written following Obama’s election, are now finding limited traction with which to regain strength. Where once the stated policy of the GOP was to refrain from attacking Obama due to his popularity and instead focus on assailing Congressional Democrats, Republican leaders are now becoming more aggressive toward the president as he becomes more and more entangled in the brambles he himself has sown.
Furthermore, George Will has rightly pointed out that Obama may not be doing himself any favors with his insistence on remaining in the faces of the American public 24/7 (see here). Once considered a brilliant and fresh tactic of creating transparency and accessibility, his regular internet addresses and public appearances may instead be tiring Americans with already short attention spans out. The Obama mystique, consequently, is unraveling more rapidly than most pundits had predicted. This, combined with his insistence on spreading himself thin politically as well, may set the tone for the rest of his first term.
Still on the docket: health care reform, entitlement reform (including social security), education reform, renewed nuclear disarmament talks with Russia, and much much more. While Obama’s approval ratings remain above 60%, he cannot continue at his current pace and expect to get much done with the remainder of his first term.