Obama's cool demeanor belies swirl of activity at home and abroad
Charles J. Ogletree Jr. | 4/29/2009, 5:58 a.m.
Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first administration in 1933, the American media has been obsessed with measuring a president’s impact during his first 100 days in office.
The 100-day benchmark is actually fairly arbitrary, given unpredictable circumstances and the limited amount of time it gives a new president to truly affect either national policy or global priorities. Nonetheless, it does offer a thumbnail sketch of a president’s priorities, actions, missteps, and strategies for overcoming obstacles, as well as the administration’s general “modus operandi” for approaching responsibilities.
As one of the youngest commanders in chief in history, Obama faced many questions about his experience, maturity and ability to respond to the overwhelming problems facing the country. Not surprisingly, what we have seen in his first 100 days in office represents a continuation of what he revealed to us on the campaign trail — a calm and measured demeanor that is reassuring in challenging times, patience, an interest in hearing out many diverging viewpoints, and, when necessary, an ability to make tough, sometimes surprising decisions. His confidence, friendliness, energy and appealing family have all been well-received, both within the U.S. and abroad.
Unquestionably, Obama has inherited massive challenges on a number of domestic and international fronts. These crises, and their sheer magnitude, defined his first 100 days in office.
He inherited seemingly interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economy in tatters, an international community that had lost faith in American leadership, a deeply dysfunctional health care system that had left millions of Americans uninsured, rising unemployment, a growing environmental crisis and unresolved legal questions about our tactics and strategies for pursuing the “war on terror.”
Yet, methodically and steadily, Obama has multi-tasked, sometimes in front of the cameras and sometimes behind the scenes, on a dizzying array of issues and challenges, never losing his cool or sense of quiet authority. Most urgently, of course, he has had to address the economic crisis that began on Wall Street, but quickly spread to every corner of the country. Obama has moved quickly to stabilize the banks and to push through a massive stimulus package designed to save and create jobs.
Obama’s decision to bail out major financial institutions was met with criticism from some economists, as well as Democrats and Republicans. We simply do not yet know whether his strategy will work or whether, ultimately, the government will have to take over and restructure failing banks. But his strategy has succeeded in stabilizing a global meltdown of financial institutions.
And despite almost universal Republican opposition, he achieved a major victory through the passage by Congress of the stimulus package, which is already invigorating local economies in cities and towns across the country. Stimulus funds are improving America’s infrastructure and providing support for education, health care, unemployment insurance and other benefits. Even as he sought unsuccessfully to gain bipartisan support for this measure, he is realistic and pragmatic enough to recognize that the bill needed to be passed under any circumstances.