Even in the powerful afterglow of historic Election Day 2008, realism makes us ask: What will Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office mean for us?
Americans are known for their eagerness for a new president to succeed. We do give each one a honeymoon. We traditionally have suspended judgment for 100 days, preferring to be believers in a new administration. Already, some voters who vehemently supported John McCain are rushing to take credit for Obama’s victory. (However, if he proves a disappointment, they will just as quickly distance themselves from him.)
We know that Obama is a brilliant politician who ran a great campaign.
But we don’t have a real clue as to how he will govern a massive federal bureaucracy, deliver health care to 47 million Americans, put us on the road to energy independence and cut taxes for those earning less than $250,000 a year.
We don’t know how he will handle the global economic crisis that has led us into a deep recession or deal with two wars, a nuclear Pakistan that is coming apart at the seams, a bombastic Iran, a resurgent Russia that is flexing its muscles in a worrisome way and global warming that poses the biggest environmental threat in world history. There are many more problems ahead of him, but this paragraph is already too long.
Still, we’ve been watching Obama for almost two years. So what can we expect?
He’s smart, Harvard Law Review editor smart and street smart. A smart person carefully picks the brains of a lot of people, reviews his options and then makes a decision. We need an economic policy in place quickly. Obama has been studying the collapse of the economy for weeks. He should be ready to have his economic team in place soon and act on that front right away.
He’s adept at multitasking. If past is prologue, he’ll be able to get his daughters a puppy, choose a White House team, settle into the Oval Office and start negotiating with foreign and congressional leaders from day two.
He is even-tempered and comfortable in his skin. Even in the heat of the campaign, we never saw him lose his temper or appear ruffled. We need that steadiness, which springs from self-confidence rather than arrogance, now more than ever.
Unlike the McCain-Palin campaign, Obama’s campaign machinery was not marked by backbiting, leaks or infighting. That’s a good omen because we need a White House that works for us and solves problems.
Obama has promised us bipartisanship. We’ll know within a few weeks if he plans to deliver by whom he chooses for his staff and his Cabinet and whether he has good meetings with Republican leaders, the few who remain. His pledge to be president of all Americans, including the 56 million who voted against him, is a good start. The worst thing he could do would be to push a liberal social agenda. But it’s doubtful he would distract us that way.
Obama is a model of self-discipline. Unlike Bill Clinton’s comfort-food bingeing during his first campaign, Obama is as skinny and athletic as ever. We need a good role model because Obama has to prepare us for self-sacrifice. With jobs disappearing, 401(k) plans shrinking and winter heating bills arriving, he has to tell us the truth about our future. After 9/11, President Bush told us to go shopping. Obama does not have that luxury. He’s already told parents to turn off the TV more often. Not a bad start.
Obama is a good communicator, a skill he will need. He will have to patch up our relations with the rest of the world. He will have to tell us economic truths we don’t want to hear. He will have to force action from Congress, which likes to bury its head in the sand.
We probably expect too much from our presidents. But it’s the American way. We’re ready to give No. 44 a chance. We’ll soon see what he can do.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)