Beacon contributor Marissa Barkey, reflects on the Obama administration and the president’s first 100 days in office.
After studying abroad in a European culture that embraced our new leadership, I came back to PBA, and it was the first time I saw the highest amount of disappointment of our new President. I was taken back when I heard one student say he believed Obama was a terrorist. President Barack Obama’s first 100 days are concluding. As I might mutter admiration for Obama’s term, clearly, I cannot forget to acknowledge that America is in big trouble.
One of the major questions we face is whether the crises we are all confronting require or demand a seismic shift in order to keep the American ship afloat. I have felt a deep ambivalence about this since I first started to take in what Obama meant. However, as the depth of corruption of the last decade is slowly revealing itself in many places, I still find myself persuaded by Obama that this is the time for real government action.
He won the stimulus debate long before the Republicans realized it (they were busy doing tap-dances of victory on talk radio, while he was building a new coalition without them). After giving such a centrist, bi-partisan, moderate and personally trustworthy front, he gets to reveal a radical long-term agenda that hopefully soak the very rich and invest in the poor.
Given the crisis, he has taken this moment for more radicalism than might have seemed possible only a couple of months ago. Of course, there is a risk, a transparent risk. If none of this works, he will have taken a massive gamble and failed. Our country will be bankrupt; Obama will have only one term. His ‘gamble’ with handling the economy may come to seem like Bush’s gamble in Iraq. But if any of it works, if the economy recovers, and if the GOP continues to be utterly deaf and blind to the new landscape we live in, then we will be looking at less Reagan than FDR when it comes to long term impact.
It’s been an intense first 100 days, and it’s going to be a riveting first year, isn’t it? Despite a long, hard-fought campaign, the public rallies to a new chief executive who has come to office riding a tide of national disapproval of his predecessor. Obama’s approval ratings are still high, even with his new approach in the role of government that leaves people skeptical. Surveys find that Americans think the president’s plan to rescue the nation’s troubled economy will work; yet many are fearful of key provisions. During the past 100 days, with the TEA parties, a joke on the Jay Leno late night talk show about the Special Olympics, massive concern over Mr. Obama and his policies, it surprisingly has not translated into a loss of public support. Indeed, the polls find the president more personally popular than his programs. And of course, a wide partisan gap exists in attitudes toward our new leader.
From this point, the most important lesson for President Obama to remember is that the public will only be patient to a certain extent as he deals with an inherited problem – as long as things do not get substantially worse on his watch. There is still a jury out watching Obama closely for mistakes.
Pew Research’s April survey finds that 53 percent of Americans believe that his economic policies had not yet affected economic conditions. They also found that 26 percent say Obama policies have made conditions better, while 16 percent claim they made things worse. But with many economists predicting further rises in unemployment and a slow recovery, President Obama, similar to Regan, may find the public’s patience wearing out, with obvious consequences at the mid-term election, and perhaps beyond.
We still face a lot of concerns. Do I still worry that government might over-reach? You bet I do. Is my instinct and inclination to do less than Obama plans? You bet it is. Am I nonetheless aware that a more active government prepared to address practical problems constructively and boldly might ameliorate the problems we face? Yes.
Still, it’s only fair to give Obama some leeway during his first year on long-term entitlement reform. He’s pledged to tackle it, and better to keep him to that than to lob bombs and throw hissy fits right now. Until this unlikely fellow with the strange name and exotic biography emerged on the scene, I was losing hope within these past 100 days and he helped restore it. That is what is stirring out there; and although you are welcome to mock me for it, I remain unashamed. In the unlikely story of America, there is never anything false about hope. Obama, moreover, seems to have an intuitive understanding of the developing world that is as much our future now as theirs. Yet remember, he is human; he is flawed.