How is Obama doing?


It’s a fair question to ask as he begins the last third of the first 100 days. Polls indicate strong support for Obama, with figures around the 60% level. His policies , however, do not curry as much favour. Already, there are cracks within the Democratic congressional caucus as Blue Dog Democrats (conservatives and centrists) are coalescing to oppose what they see as excessive spending in the budget, specifically the $3.4 trillion dollar deficit and the massive bailout packages for the financial sector and the car manufacturers (the so-called Big Three).

The deficit represents a whopping 12.3% of GDP compared to deficits of 8.8% in the UK, 5.6% in France and 2.2 % in Canada. Job losses have grown significantly in recent months, with approximately two million job losses in the past three months. Unemployment is at 7.2% and growing. The stock market indices have steadily resisted making any significant gains since the stimulus package passed Congress. The performance of the markets may have improved in recent days, but not enough to hail a “turning of the corner.” Add to this the well-placed fury of the American public against AIG’s payment of retention bonuses to executives, and we can assume that the Obama administration is on a short leash. (It’s worth noting AIG may only be the tip of the iceberg regarding bonuses paid to executives of bailed out companies.) Meanwhile, the president is out in California and elsewhere doing town halls, television interviews (including the one scheduled to appear on CBS’s 60 Minutes next Sunday), and will appear on Jay Leno this week. There is rarely a news day without Obama announcing a new policy or explaining his actions to date. Clearly, this president intends to run a proactive presidency.

Some are already claiming the honeymoon will soon end despite no concrete evidence that it will. In the process, Obama has gone from painting a dire economic picture to projecting emerging optimism. He is helped by a cautious, but upbeat message from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke who, on 60 Minutes last week, hinted that the recession may begin to end by the last quarter of 2009. Moreover, Bernanke spoke of a severe recession but dismissed the chances of a depression despite his early fears. Housing starts are up, some banks are turning profits and even returning some bailout money. Should the administration manage to stabilize the banking sector and restrictions to credit financing start to ease, Obama may be shown to have been ahead of the curve.

That said, the criticism directed at Obama may not be completely unfounded. To many observers in the media, he appears to be all over the map, alternately focusing on a stimulus package of record proportions, major spending in health care, revamped education and energy policies, sending envoys to all the hotspots of the world, issuing executive orders, rescinding or reversing initiatives from the George W. Bush era, modifying the discourse in foreign affairs, and indulging a well-designed spat with Rush Limbaugh. Obama’s appearance on the Tonight Show and his predictions for the NCAA basketball playoffs add weight to his detractors’ claims that the president is trying to do too much too fast and may, as a result, fail to solve the biggest problem of all, the economic crisis. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, and Warren Buffett, an early Obama supporter, have already expressed some concern. And we know ” Boss” Limbaugh has publicly stated his wish that Obama fail.

Is he therefore on the path to failure or success? Surely, it is too early to tell. But Obama seems to have a solid grasp of history and the realities of the modern presidency. History teaches us that a failure to set the course in the early stages of the first mandate can compromise the opportunity to enact the policies and objectives later on. Congress is also gearing up for the mid-terms in 2010—how else can you explain the vocal opposition of Blue Dog Democrats or the Republicans’ towing of the Limbaugh line?—and Democrats are fearful Obama may not show enough progress on the economy in time for the 2010 electoral showdown. The GOP, on the other hand, simply wants to be able to say “I told you so” and prove ol’ Rush was right all along. However, when one listens to Obama and his rhetoric, there is a linkage between the economy, education, health care, energy, securing the peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, restoring the integrity of science, and ending Bush’s policies of torture and lawlessness. His is more a ‘teacher-presidency’ in its early stages, and it takes repetition and time to connect the dots in a world of competitive media and messages. On the night of his victory last November, the freshly-elected president made it clear he would not govern for the next poll or the next election. He wanted to set America on a durable course for the long term. Unlike his predecessor Bush who had trouble putting a coherent sentence together, let alone putting two thoughts together, Obama has expressed a vision and displayed the temperament to deal with the modern presidency in these perilous times.

The criticism by detractors about the rock star and leisure side of his presidency may have some resonance with some mainstream media. Respected NBC reporter, Mark Halperin, not usually a vociferous critic of Obama, criticized the president for sending mixed messages at a time of economic hardship and suggested going on Jay Leno’s show is not appropriate. This doesn’t factor in how Barack Obama has conducted himself in the public domain. America wants the real thing, not an actor with talking points. If anything, Obama has shown a masterful grasp of the media and has never wavered in his confidence in the “better nature of Americans.” This explains why Americans think he is doing a good job. And more importantly, why they want him to succeed.


How is Obama doing?

  1. Actually, I believe Mark Halperin is on Time, not NBC.

    And he may be respected amongst the beltway media.. but those of us bloggers who followed the campaign know he’s really a fan of Republicans. He’s been harping about how biased the US media were for Obama during the campaign. Also, if you go here, you’ll see how much in love he is with Rush Limbaugh and other conservative publications and personalities.

    . I believe the Obama campaign was on record as saying if Halperin came out against something, then it was a good policy, because almost everything he predicted turned out wrong.. so if Halperin is fretting about what Obama is doing, that tells me he’s doing just fine. “Concern Troll” is an apt description for Mr. Halperin.

  2. “Unlike his predecessor Bush who had trouble putting a coherent sentence together, let alone putting two thoughts together”

    ‘Obama’s reliance on the teleprompter is unusual — not only because he is famous for his oratory, but because no other president has used one so consistently and at so many events, large and small … Obama has relied on a teleprompter through even the shortest announcements and when repeating the same lines on his economic stimulus plan that he’s been saying for months — whereas past presidents have mostly worked off of notes on the podium …’ Politco, March 5 ’09

    If Bush had used a teleprompter as much as Obama has, libs/progressives would have been even more insufferable than they already are about how ‘dumb’ Bush was.

    “However, when one listens to Obama and his rhetoric, there is a linkage between the economy, education, health care, energy, securing the peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, restoring the integrity of science, and ending Bush’s policies of torture and lawlessness.”

    Do you write this stuff sincerely or to raise our blood pressure? Maybe in Obama world there is a linkage between digitizing health care records and fixing the economy but many of us don’t see it. Obama is following Bush’ Iraq policies and has changed stem-cell restrictions but has not ‘restored the integrity of science’, whatever that means, because there are still plenty of things scientists want to do but Obama won’t allow them to. And Obama has not ended ‘torture and lawlessness’, he’s just implemented Orwellian name and classification changes.

    What I find so odd about Obama so far is that it doesn’t appear that he realizes that he won the election and needs to start governing because as far as I can tell he’s still campaigning.

    • He’s campaigning for his party as he must do. One of the many things different about the american system is that they have congessional elections in between the main one. In 2 years the congress will change so what everyone is concerned about right now is how to start positioning themselves and to start to get their war chests filled up to the brim with their own brand of stimulus spending.

      • I understand election cycles but it’s not really what I meant. My comment was more about tone/presentation/style/bearing. Obama does not come across as being presidential to me, it’s like he has inferiority complex or he can’t quite believe he has won or something, and he’s still doing his campaign shtick instead of behaving like a President.

        I thought the Limbaugh stuff was beneath Obama, or the Office of the President, and now the AIG populist crap. I understand there is outrage for bonuses but that’s a diversion – the real outrage is how AIG is being used to launder money to other institutions – and the President should not be singling people out for abuse, ridicule and initiating class warfare.

        • good points .. sorry for misunderstanding the previous post. I kind of like your point about disbelief in being the prez .. a very interesting tac. I too have a strange feeling about the entire congrees using the head of AIG as a whipping boy when he’s basically a volunteer (1 dollar a year is not much of a salary) parachuted in to help!!!!!!! all the while all those new Democartic Congressman full of self righteous fury suggesting that AIG employees should follow the japanese model and committ suicide and all the while the Congressmen voted the aid packages trhough with the bonus riders allowed .. I don’t know man it’s so hypocritical!!!!!!!!

  3. I don’t really see what Congressional Democrats have to worry about in 2010. Given the rhetoric that this is a once in a lifetime financial tsunami I think voters are going to give them the benefit of the doubt after only two years of unfeterred power and a Republican Party in total chaos. It’s not like the voters really have much of a choice.

  4. I don’t doubt the sincerity of your conclusions but economic history has never proved the effectiveness of government to manage an economy. For example: Obama is already making the typical politically motivated decision to pick winners and losers in the race for alternative fuels just like the Republicans did with their idiotic corn subsidies. Let’s be clear shall we – the Fed of fiat money creation is there to serve an insane spiral of deficit expansion and wealth redistribution. Obama is a member of The Club and to prove the weakness of his presidency thus far is to follow him on yet another series of campaign stops to dazzle the desperate and play on their fears. America chose this president and if they see his policies as a path to prosperity, then perhaps we should be respectful of this choice and capitalize on the global reactions by positioning Canada as the North American haven for global commerce. I appreciate your point of view but disagree with thr conclusion. Many Americans have already declared in a poll that Obama is trying to do to much.

  5. Interesting, though 55% of Americans think that Obama is trying to do too much… they approve of what he is doing.

    “59 percent say they approve of how the president is handling the economy, 57 percent like how Obama’s dealing with health care, 63 percent approve of how he’s handling energy policy and 65 percent back him when it comes to education reform.

  6. “How Is Obama Doing?”

    He’s doing just great if you are looking for a return to the 1970s. Obama’s admin desire to attack private citizens/enemies using the IRS has similarities to Nixon’s time in office and his can’t we all get along appeal to Iranians today is positively Carter-ish in its naivete.

    • Right, and that “Axis of Evil” type view that Bush used to describe Iran really worked wonders, eh jwl?

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