Three days after Senator Obama’s historic election, I proposed an agendafor President Obama’s first 100 days. As we near this iconic marker I’msurprised to see just how much of that platform is in motion – frompassage of the stimulus and repeal of the global gag rule to theAdministration’s pledge to close Guantanamo. I’m frustrated at how slowprogress is on other priorities, like health care and labor reform. AndI’m troubled by the administration’s direction on some issues, notablythe bank bailout plan and Afghanistan. But as voices left and right moveto grade Obama’s progress, it is astonishing to see the energy anddirectness with which Obama’s administration has confronted the issuesof our time.
We have arrived, then, at a stunning and troubling moment. Reformopportunity is there. A reform Congress is in place. Big issues are teedup to fight for. But there are two areas which I fear could endanger theObama Presidency: military escalation in Afghanistan and the bankingbailout. Most projections say we’ll have double digit unemploymentthrough 2011. The contrast between the treatment of the auto industry,where workers and managers and creditors and shareholders are taking thehits, and the bailout of banks is corrosive. When more bonuses are paidout, more self-dealing exposed, we may see more anger – especially rightwing populism. On Afghanistan, I am concerned that it will bleed us ofthe resources needed for economic recovery, further destabilizePakistan, open a rift with our European allies and negate the positiveeffects of withdrawing from Iraq on our image in the Muslim world.
Alternatively, there is reason for optimism. The President’s commitmentto pragmatism suggests that, confronted with sufficient pressure frommobilized citizens and thinkers who understand the endemic problems withthe Summers/Geithner plan, he may ultimately move to a Plan B or Team Bin order to keep his popularity, credibility and agenda alive. And wecan hope that hearings in Congress, and pressure from citizens who seeka non-military path to security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will pushthe Administration to bear down on regional diplomacy, commonsensecounter-terrorism measures and targeted development aid as the mosteffective security policies to stabilize the region.
This past week I wrote that President Obama’s address at Georgetown, his”economic sermon on the mount,” reveals the depth of his understandingof the task ahead: building a new economy out of the ashes of our failedone. It also reveals his understanding of the defining politicalstruggle ahead: The budget. President Obama knows that the right isn’tgoing to give an inch, that members of his own party are turning tailand fixating on deficits instead of investment, and that some of themissteps of his own economic team have made the budget debate even moredifficult. Progressives will need to confront lobbies mobilized to haltessential reforms.
In the days to come, The Nation will be engaged in the debate over thesefirst “100 Days.” Already our D.C. Editor Chris Hayes has been writing aweekly series on policy and the new administration. Next Wednesday inD.C. we’re hosting a public forum, Obama @ 100, to assess theAdministration’s progress so far. And in next week’s Nation we willfocus in greater detail on the policy shifts so far – and the politicalstruggles to come. In January I wrote that President Obama’s First 100Days should be judged on just how audacious he chooses to be. In thedays and weeks to come, it’s our hope that the “100 Days” debate can beabout principles, ideas and the movement to encourage “audacity” in ournew and still malleable President–not just on political points scoredand the 2010 outlook. We welcome your thoughts and ideas in thecomments.