Obama's "First 100 Days"... NOT through the hopefuls' prism

Fourteen weeks after taking the reins, Barack Obama seems well at ease to receive his first report card… on that artificial measuring target that dates back 76 years as another president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took over the leadership over an America in economic shambles. It was an America afflicted by Swine Capitalism flu (affluenza) back in 1933, and it is an America afflicted by a new strain of Swine Capitalism flu in 2009.

Surveys on Americans’ sentiments about the new president – that give him a popularity not seen since Ronald Reagan – and a perceived “new direction” for the country by just about half of the population, would seem to indicate that the overall grade during these first one hundred days in office is definitely a passing one. Yet, during this period which is referred to as the “Congressional Honeymoon,” outside of a controversial stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – Pub. L. 111-5) signed into law on February 17 by President Barack Obama, little else has been done. Hardly comparable to what FDR accomplished during the same period on his “New Deal” (over a dozen major pieces of legislation dealing with the full spectrum of the depression from tackling unemployment to the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority).

But let’s be fair, the commonality of both presidents inheriting a nation in economic crisis ends there. FDR assumed the presidency of a country that was neither an empire nor aspiring to be one, although America’s colonial treatment of her Latin America good neighbors may well challenge that. Be that as it may, Obama entered the White House with America baring a soiled reputation internationally… with the possible exception of Israel. So Obama has had to confront an even greater monumental task than that of his 19 elections-removed predecessor.

Where FDR persuaded Congress about passing legislation “for the good of the nation,” something that he could do having attained almost 60 percent of the electorate vote – also aided by an enormous underclass which hadn’t voted, or wasn’t “allowed” to vote – Obama has had to fight his battle upstream in a truly divided nation that barely gave him 53 percent of the total vote. And where the political thinking of members of Congress often does not follow party lines… with the Democrats, that is!

As in the past, my progressive vestments and telescopic lenses have made me take an overview on Obama’s success, or lack of it, quite different from the population at large. My view of Obama’s first hundred days at the helm differs substantially from that held by most, although I am happy to state that almost in unanimity all the progressive friends and peers I have contacted in the last three days – which number in the dozens – seem to affirm my views as presented to them via email. Let’s just say that ours may well be a view of no longer the hopeful, but the disenchanted Left that voted for him.

Although Obama has made the obligatory gestures of promoting policy change in the international sphere... to please the European Union, Arab-Moslem nations, Russia, China and Latin America – via an irrelevant and subservient OAS, his grade remains an incomplete as to where this nation stands vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

For now, and only on issues relevant to war and peace, this president does not come out much different from Bush with the occupation and withdrawal from Iraq, things there as mired as they ever were; or with a policy on Afghanistan that is more in line with the schemes being brewed at the Pentagon than with a regional solution that could be achieved via negotiations. And, of course, we know that the Israel-Palestine situation (conflict) is, and will continue to be, at an impasse as long as Israel’s government so desires it… and Rahm Emanuel remains as the White House Chief of Staff. On issues of war and peace, and that includes a blind eye to Darfur, a definite failing grade!

As for the economic crisis and all other domestic issues (education, energy, health care, immigration and the rest) there isn’t much a president can do in one hundred days other than to establish clear policies and give unequivocal direction. One would expect that success or failure in each case is for others to judge in the future. So, again, Obama must accept an incomplete.

But if our report card is for the most part a question mark, with one incomplete grade after another, there is one area where he has sadly failed just as he has with the issue of war and peace; and that is, not calling for the Department of Justice to investigate and bring charges against those in the prior administration who might be responsible for insidious crimes dealing with constitutional rights (the issue of privacy comes to mind), or human rights (torture by Americans in and out of uniform). Even if 60 percent of Americans feel that those responsible for torture need not be brought to justice, as polls indicate, it is the duty of their leaders to show that constitutionality and justice must always prevail.

There is one area, perhaps the most important one of all, where President Obama does excel and definitely gets the highest possible score; and that is, his political malleability showing an incredible capacity for compromise. As much as we, progressives, are continually being told that these “little compromises” are but contretemps to a leader that stands for progressive causes, I am beginning to seriously doubt that.

But for the lack of a revolution, when we are being handed lemons, do we really have any other reasonable choice than to make lemonade?