A Sober Look at Obama’s First 100 Days

It’s good to be back! Let’s get right to it, one day earlier than promised.

Jane wrote: “You were pretty tough on the Bush administration, so I guess you’re going to gush with everybody else about the Obama administration’s first 100 days?”

No. The reason I was tough on the Bush administration had nothing to do with my own party affiliation. Every time I write anything related to politics, people try to pigeonhole me as either a Democrat or a Republican. I look at facts. If the facts support the party in power, people assume I’m of that party’s persuasion. If not, they assume I’m an attack dog from the other side. Without buttons or hats or songs of inspiration, how about looking at some facts from President Obama’s first 100 days?

First of all, the impression created in popular media that President Obama is universally loved is false. Almost 48% of voters chose somebody else last November. That’s why you should don a sour look every time somebody refers to the U.S. as having a “popular president” or a president supported by the people. President Obama achieved no landslide victory. He received a little more than half the votes.

Even his current approval rating of 69% is unremarkable. It’s about average at this stage of presidencies since 1953, nestled between Nixon and Carter at their 100-day marks.

People talk about how well the Obama administration is handling the financial crisis. Really? Then I guess those people liked the Bush administration, because nothing has changed.

The plan to use taxpayer dollars to prop up failed financial institutions took root last fall under the Bush administration, and is basically what’s still going on. Team Obama just followed the Team Bush play book. In several cases, Team Obama is the same as Team Bush, after all. Ben Bernanke never budged from his top spot at the Federal Reserve, and Timothy Geithner was simply moved from his position at the top of the New York Fed to the top of the Treasury. His being asleep at the wheel at NY Fed is partly why banks there got away with so many shenanigans, and now he’s running the Treasury. Bright new day, indeed.

True, Team Obama added a stimulus package to the prop-up strategy kicked off by Team Bush, but what newly elected president would not have done so? Almost every economist was calling for one at the end of last year, with the main disagreement being over the size and focus of such a stimulus. Reactions to the Obama stimulus have been mixed, so it’s hard to chalk up economic activity as a bright victory for the current administration.

Supporters of the president happily reported on his recent trip to Europe, in which the tone was much friendlier than visits made by President Bush. Fine, but what did it accomplish? Nothing, I’m afraid. Germany politely turned down President Obama’s request that they boost their own stimulus package. That was smart, by the way, because they realize that the heavy lifting of American taxpayers will also lift Germany out of the slump, so no wonder they were all smiles but no action.

How about that war effort? Same non-result. President Obama had hoped that Europe would get behind his war in Afghanistan, but Europe looks to have had enough of America’s wars for now. Sure, they sent a few token troops to train local police, but that’s not the joint effort the president had in mind.

Back at home, the debtor nation is a lot deeper in debt than it was 100 days ago. Spending beyond belief is not party specific. Every president seems to think he’ll be judged by how much he added to the country’s credit card. If so, Obama is headed to a prominent place in history books on this score. His first 100 days added $2.5 trillion to federal spending, a pace of $25 billion per day.

That’s why the recent “Fiscal Responsibility Summit” was such a laugh. When the president convened his cabinet last week and told them to find $100 million in savings over the next 90 days, people halfway decent with numbers wondered if perhaps he’d misspoken, substituting an “m” for the “b” that should have preceded the “illion.”

No, he meant just million and was apparently serious, despite the guffaws echoing through hallways. Telling the government to find $100 million in savings after it put the national debt on track to hit $20 trillion in ten years is a funny kind of fiscal responsibility. It’s less than a single day’s interest on the $787 billion stimulus package.

If that’s how money is managed at the top of the nation, no wonder ordinary people can’t figure out to pay off their credit cards each month.

Of course, the first 100 days are nothing magical. The Obama administration is still working on the challenges facing the country. The clock didn’t run out. From most reports, though, you’d think the nation had been saved since January. It hasn’t been. I’ve seen both A and F grades assigned to Team Obama so far. I don’t think it deserves either, yet, and I think most such grades are assigned based on the grader’s opinion of the idea of President Obama, not the results of his initiatives.

Those who loved him 100 days ago still love him; those who didn’t still don’t.

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