Obama's first 100 days: Too early to tell

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When measuring President Obama's first 100 days, it's important to separate reality from rhetoric. With inflated praise that rivals that of the Edsel's marketers, Obama's supporters have spent much of the past two years painting him in almost messianic terms. Consequently, his inability to completely fix the economy, end war, and ameliorate all human suffering in just over three months has been something of a disappointment. Even so, the conservative response to his presidency has seemed somewhat petty: The New York Post, for example, has chosen to mark the day with a list of "100 mistakes," including Obama's "reliance" on the Teleprompter and the fact that he didn't mention the Armenian genocide.

Admittedly, the President's first 100 days have not been completely transformative. Unemployment is still on the rise, home purchases are still exceedingly low, and the market, while no longer in free-fall, still displays a combination of sluggishness and skittishness that is profoundly worrying. However, while this news seems dire, it is worth noting that Obama's solutions don't pretend to be quick fixes: As numerous analysts have pointed out, it took years to get into a recession, and it will take years to get the economy back onto a firm and sustainable footing. Experience has shown that quick fixes are rarely permanent fixes.

Of course, any objective accounting of the President's early progress, must also consider the red side of the ledger. On the surface, it would seem that expenses have exploded on Obama's watch. After all, the $787 billion stimulus package that went through Congress on the eve of Valentines' day represented a quantum increase in domestic spending. Containing a mile-long laundry list of tax cuts, public works projects and green initiatives, it inspired furious opposition among Republicans, who characterized the plan as pointless spending that would lead to a massive increase in taxes.

Given that the stimulus package is part of a long-term strategy for improving the economy and developing the national infrastructure, it is -- again -- too early to assess its effectiveness. Critics point out that, thus far, the stimulus has created fewer than 2,000 jobs, while advocates note that some of the tax benefits have begun to bear fruit. In the meantime, even states that have aggressively criticized the stimulus seem eager to grab their share.

One of the country's biggest expenditures right now is its overseas conflicts. According to some analysts, the cost of the Iraq war was $12 billion per month in 2008. One of the goals that the President has set for the coming year is an institutionalized war budget, which would place funding for Iraq and Afghanistan in the federal budget, instead of positioning it as "supplemental" spending, the accounting technique used by the Bush administration. Even so, Obama had to ask Congress for one last supplemental bill of $76 million to finance the war through the end of September.

Beyond this, Obama has set August 31, 2010, as the final date for America's combat mission in Iraq, with the removal of all American troops in Iraq scheduled for the end of 2011. His proposed method for attaining this goal -- diplomacy -- is neither as intrusive nor as expensive as direct military involvement. Further, by explicitly stating America's aims in the war as the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the development of a civilian government in Iraq, Obama has laid the groundwork for a dignified withdrawal from the region. Of course, as in the case of the stimulus plan, it remains to be seen if the President's overseas diplomacy and attempts to withdraw from overseas conflicts will bear political and economic fruit.

As DailyFinance's Joseph Lazzaro has pointed out, the arbitrary figure of 100 days is a holdover from the transformative beginning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency. In the ensuing decades, it has become a regular event, as the country waits with bated breath to see if each President will live up to the ideals and rhetoric of his campaign. Real transformation, however, takes time, and while it is possible to detect the groundwork for some wide-ranging changes in America's politics, economy, and ethos, the real game is only beginning.


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