100 days of Obama: Energy aplenty, no miracles

Associated Press | 4/29/2009, 6:01 a.m.
President Barack Obama hugs military personnel at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday, April 7, 2009. Obama...
President Barack Obama hugs military personnel at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday, April 7, 2009. Obama inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he took over the presidency from predecessor George W. Bush. In keeping with his campaign promises, he has moved toward removing troops from the former while increasing U.S. military commitment in the latter. AP /Charles Dharapak

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama opened his presidency by drawing an unflinching portrait of the challenges. Then he set about turning those perils into possibilities.

In a dizzying dash to the 100-day mark, Obama made a down payment on the changes he’d promised and delivered a trillion-dollar wallop to wake up the moribund economy. He put the country on track to end one war, reorient another and redefine what it means to be a superpower.

All this with a cool confidence that has made increasing numbers of Americans hopeful that the country may at last be heading in the right direction.

The public couldn’t get enough of it, fixating on Team Obama’s every move — the arrival of family dog Bo; the president showing up for work in his shirtsleeves; the first lady’s moxie in baring her arms; Sasha and Malia’s swing set; even a visit to the White House by the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Obama says he has jumped into a “weird fishbowl.”

Not everyone’s impressed. For all that went right with the president’s liftoff (after that small matter of the flubbed oath of office), Obama’s opening moves have fallen short in the eyes of many, and have left others wondering where it all will lead.

Republicans largely stiffed the president on his call for bipartisanship and cast him as a weak leader on the world stage. Liberals groused that he could have done more and wondered whether he’s too prone to compromise. Deficit hawks worried that he’s blown a gaping a hole in the budget.

Obama himself seems energized.

“The decision-making part of it,” he says, “actually comes pretty naturally.”

As for the critics, Obama says, Washington is “a little bit like ‘American Idol’ — but everybody is Simon Cowell.”

Almost overlooked in all the hoopla is the historic nature of Obama’s tenure as the first black president. There’s been little time to even think about that issue, which commanded so much attention during the campaign, as Obama has grappled with a seizing economy and has rushed pell-mell to reverse the legacy of eight years of Republican rule.

“You’d be hard [pressed] to find another president facing those kinds of challenges who has acted as intelligently and aggressively to meet the challenges head on,” said presidential historian Andrew Polsky, a professor at Hunter College in New York. “He hasn’t pushed things to the back burner. Of course, whether any of this works is another question, and it’s too soon to know that.”

Others are less hesitant to draw conclusions.

Ted Sorensen, a former speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, says Obama “seems likely to be one of the great presidents in our history.”

Former House Republican leader Newt Gingrich says Obama’s foreign policy moves have been looking “a lot like Jimmy Carter,” a one-term president regarded as a weak leader.

Whatever the record so far, it’s clear that Obama’s biggest challenges are still to come. The pledge to overhaul health care will make his successful expansion of children’s health coverage look like child’s play.