Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Obama's impressive 100 days

Today marks the 100th day of Barack Obama's Presidency. And an impressive if challenging 100 days it has been. Leave aside the sillier obsessions of cable news channels and you have a picture of decisiveness and decision-making that would be creditable in a President with far more experience than Obama.

His cabinet picks have been strong - especially Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State - though he had a few early mishaps. Kathleen Sibelius was only sworn in as health secretary yesterday in good time to face up to the flu crisis. But in a few months Obama has pushed through a huge economic stimulus, set a date for closing Guantanamo Bay and stopped CIA torture practices, changed Iran policy and ensured a safe ending to a pirate hostage drama. Importantly, European and Latin American visits changed how the US appears to the outside world (though he should not be afraid to speak up on human rights either - nobody gains if the Chavezes win out over the Lulas in the battle for Latin American minds). With Sibelius in place, he should be able to push forward the crucial healthcare reforms.

That he has been more liberal than pundits expect may owe more to the times than to the man. I finally read Dreams from my Father over the Easter and found it a far more perceptive and revealing book than his rather bland policy tome Audacity of Hope written more recently. It is a good guide to his philosophy, and the influence of Chicago community politics. It also suggests a mix of radicalism and pragmatism that came through in the election, and which many thought would translate into greater bipartisanship. His standing - and his ability to get things done - is certainly boosted by the defection of Arlen Spector, the Pennsylvania senator, from the Republicans, but his failure to reach more widely into the Republicans reflects both the increasing partisanship of the party (and the far reach of its lunatic fringe) as well as the more partisan instincts of an unforgiving Democrat majority in Congress.

It won't be easy for Obama to keep up the momentum, or to maintain his current levels of popularity, though the Republicans and their crackpot media allies are doing their bit to help him. What he needs to show over the next year are solid results in the economy, progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan on security, and the beginnings of healthcare reform. His ability to do so will help determine whether he is to become a great President.

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