Despite the anticipation that accompanies it, the marking of a president's first 100 days in office is a decidedly predictable affair. The White House, while downplaying the metric, nevertheless goes to great lengths to stress the enormity of its own accomplishments. Critics, not surprisingly, carry a diametrically different message; only this time, terms like socialist and fascist are bandied about.
That said, conservatives and progressives alike do seem to be in agreement on one aspect of the Obama presidency: one hundred days into office and a lot has been done. From new approaches to two wars to more than a trillion dollars of government spending; from pirate attacks to flu epidemics; from controversial cartoons to Senatorial defections; a full news day has not this administration lacked.
The abnormally packed cycle has had its side effects. Stories that once could or would receive front page treatment have faded fast. Indeed, some of the most consequential changes made by the president to date - affecting our nation's health care system, infrastructure, urban and foreign policy - have received modest to little coverage, either discussed but not appreciated, or reported but not in great depth. As Obama gets set to host a press conference marking his first 100 days, the Huffington Post asked administration officials as well as Democrats inside and out of government for their picks of under-appreciated stories during this time period. Here are ten of those stories.
1. Health Care: The Obama White House cleared an important hurdle in the health care reform debate when it appropriated $19 billion in the stimulus package to help implement an electronic medical record system. The money is paltry compared to the hundreds of billions set aside for an overhaul of the health care system in the budget. But officials inside and out of the White House say its significance is hard to overstate.
"We need to have health IT so we have a better idea both of what works but also... so people can share information," Zeke Emanuel, Obama's health care adviser told the Huffington Post in mid-March. "We are on our way in a way that we have never committed ourselves before."
2. Communications: A presidential campaign built on innovative messaging and advanced technology has, naturally, become a White House defined by similar characteristics. As such, the reach of the administration's new media efforts - from hosting online question-and-answer sessions with the president to publishing the first White House blog - has been as expected as appreciated. It's unfortunate, said one tech savvy Democrat, because the new policies have had tangible impacts. "The White House streams every event with the president on its website, even press events," he said. "It's remarkable because, this Sunday they held a swine flu press conference that ordinary people [including many who may have been personally nervous about the topic] were able to watch online... Before you had to wait for a readout or hope that CSPAN would cover it. This is one of those things that people don't quite understand the significance of."
3. Transportation: Since the passage of the economic stimulus package in mid-February, the Obama Department of Transportation has approved 2,500 highway projects. The movement of stimulus money out the door has been as swift as it has been effective: $9.3 billion has been spent in all 50 states. Touting its impact, DOT officials say 260,000 jobs are expected from this investment. And with competition for contracts fierce, the department is set to approve even more projects than previously envisioned. "There will be more money for additional transportation projects," said the official.
4. Education: Maligned for its handling of the financial and banking crises, the Obama Treasury Department has nevertheless implemented policies with real qualitative and quantitative impact on debt-burdened families. Chief among those was a $2,500 tax credit to help offset the cost of tuition (among other expenses) for those seeking a college education. Nearly five million families are expected to save $9 billion, according to Treasury officials.
5. Cars: The automobile industry at the White House and Congress's behest has undergone seismic structural changes, managerial reorganization, and massive cuts in employment. But for all the tough love, the president has put in place the framework for an industry recovery. Perhaps the most significant of steps was to allocate $2 billion in stimulus cash for advanced batteries systems. One high-ranking Hill aide called battery technology "the next big frontier" in the automotive world, adding that if the U.S. could dominate this market it would reclaim its perch as the world's premier car manufacturer.
6. Pakistan: Cognizant of a destabilizing situation in Pakistan, the administration's diplomatic team, with a major assist from Japan, secured $5 billion in aid commitments "to bolster the country's economy and help it fight terror and Islamic radicalism" within the country. The money, as Pakistan observers -- notably Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry - note, will prove instrumental in bringing the nation away from the brink of failure and increased Taliban control.
7. Cities: More than any prior president, Obama has put a spotlight on America's struggling cities, even creating an office of Urban Policy in the White House. It is the Justice Department, however, that lays claim to one of the most consequential of urban affairs achievements. Through the Recovery Act, DOJ secured $2 billion for Byrne Grants, which funds anti-gang and anti-gun task forces. The money, cut during the Bush years, is expected to have massive ramifications on inner-city crime and violence.
8. Engaging the Muslim World: While certainly discussed, foreign affairs experts insist that Obama's engagement with the Muslim world has been at once remarkable and under-appreciated. From the first interview with Al Arabiya to his Nowruz address to the Iranian people, to his proclamation that "American is not at war with Islam" during an appearance in Turkey, seasoned observers have been routinely impressed. "Through these [statements and interviews]," said one Democratic foreign policy hand, "He has been able to dramatically change America's image in that region."
9. Forests: Since taking office, the White House has put under federal protection more than two million acres of wilderness, thousands of miles of river and a host of national trails and parks. The conservation effort - the largest in the last 15 years - came with the stroke of a pen when Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 in late March.
10. Tone: Leaving a meeting at the White House on Tuesday a progressive member of the House of Representatives commented to the Huffington Post just how impressed she was with the president's manner. "He is so calm," said the member, "and has a great ability to make you feel like you're being respected and listened to."
It is not, necessarily, a unique observation. But among many Democrats and even casual observers, Obama's tone is cited as one of the chief catalysts for his outstanding early poll numbers. "Despite record job loss," said one Democratic aide, "there's still hope in America." Indeed, from the beginning of his presidency the percentage of people who believe the nation is headed in the right direction has risen from 19 percent to 42 percent, according to a recent ABC News-Washington Post Poll. Minus that calming influence, these numbers don't exist and neither does the Obama agenda as we know it.
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