The reviews have been generally favourable to the Obama administration regarding the first 100 days. But despite the promising start, there is a downside to it—from now on, the administration will be primarily judged on the merits of its policies. Much of what Obama inherited was Bush-created and Bush-driven, but the stimulus package, the proposed budget and the new initiatives in foreign policy all bear his fingerprints. It is safe to say that the next 100 days will be more critical to the success or failure of the new administration .
Regarding the economy, the “glimmers of hope” remain just that. Expect unemployment to keep rising in the next quarter, followed by calls for a new stimulus package. It is clear that a second stimulus package will be considered in light of the proposed budget, which will already include substantial new spending and increase the deficit. Given this, the Republicans may finally get their act together and succeed in building opposition to additional stimulus. And Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats may suddenly resist in open revolt. It is also possible that more controversies such as the AIG bonuses (which were drastically underestimated in an earlier report) may actually polarize the population and turn it against the administration.
We also can expect a showdown on the unspecified items in the budget regarding healthcare, education and the environment. Congress, while dominated by the Democrats, may conclude that Obama has bitten off more than he can chew. Look to Congress to give in to the president on his signature and legacy priority, universal healthcare. However, it could prove less enthusiastic on other issues, such as cap and trade. This is where the skills of the vaunted Obama staff will be the determining factor. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will earn his keep as Congress will be in election mode by the fall of this year. Will Obama maintain his popularity as he enters the nitty gritty of politics in bringing his policies home? Will Obama’s media presence be as sustained and effective once memories of the previous unpopular administration start to fade?
On the foreign policy front, President Obama has chosen to become directly engaged in the Middle East peace process, pushing for a two-state solution involving Israel and Palestine. In addition, he has intervened directly on the Pakistan and Afghanistan files, both of which have been hampered by the weakness of their respective governments. Add to this Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear muscle-flexing to the minefield of unexpected problems that could crop up on the international scene. Obama has a ‘crackerjack’ foreign policy team with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading the way, but international issues have an unpredictable side to them that can easily derail even the most controlled policy agenda. We also cannot underestimate the debate on the torture memos, which will surely polarize the major parties in Congress and may actually divide the Democrats if Obama resists taking a more aggressive stance against the perpetrators of these memos.
The next 100 days will be a greater test for this administration than the first 100. Obama and his team have up to now shown skill and discipline. They have been audacious at times, yet cautious at other moments. They know the challenges and have not been reluctant to face them. Most importantly, the American people want Barack Obama to succeed. This ultimately may be his greatest asset as he enters the next 100 days.