As the Republican Party sinks slowly in the South....
That line has nothing to do, really, with President Barack Obama's second hundred days in office, but, after re-reading three months of my own columns, it was the one thing I wrote which jumped out at me as a good overview of the zeitgeist of the period.
This is really (technically) the third "look back" column I've written on Obama's term in office so far, so if you'd like you can review what I had to say about Obama's first 168 hours in office, or his first 94 days in office. And for historical context, you can review my look back at the first 100 days of Obama's six immediate predecessors in office (Ford/Carter/Reagan in one, HWBush/Clinton/WBush in the other).
But enough of all this shameless plugging of past columns! Let's get on with the show here. The last time I did this, I divided it up into "the good," "the bad," and "the monumentally stupid (media)." This time, I am going to re-use a Dickens quote I mentioned a few weeks ago, the beginning of A Tale Of Two Cities.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
So our look back at Obama's second 100 days will begin with a short overview, and then move on to the categories: "the best of times," "the worst of times," and "the age of (media) foolishness." Since a four-year presidential term has over 1,400 days in it, I may not be able to come up with new catchy metaphors each time, but that is a problem to be solved in the future. And here, we're supposed to be interested in the past, right? So let's get on with it.
Obama's Second 100 Days -- An Overview
I've always been confused why the media goes berserk about rating a president's "first 100 days," but then just stops counting after the first milestone. This, to a statistician, would be known as a "zero dimensional data array" -- one data point, to be exact. If you don't re-test the sample on a regular schedule, how are you supposed to compare it to anything?
So when I wrote about Obama's first hundred days, I marked my calendar so I wouldn't miss his second, which falls tomorrow (at the time this column is published, Obama will have been in office almost exactly 199 days, even though I am aware that everyone else counts differently and would count today as Day 200).
Obama's second hundred days were not as productive as his first, but not by a whole lot. The flurry of activity Obama generated in Washington in his first three months in office was, in wonk-speak, "unsustainable" -- since everyone knew he'd have to slow down eventually. But while Obama has indeed slowed the pace, he is still getting more done in each month than most presidents manage in a good year. Now, of course, he has set his sights on one massive issue, which tends to push everything else off to the side a bit, but if he is successful in his health care reform efforts it will be so big it will go a long way to defining his entire presidency (or, optimistically, his first term).
As I mentioned last time, the "100 days" benchmark was one set by Napoleon himself, which ended with the Battle of Waterloo. I mention this because one Republican was caught in a "Washington gaffe" (speaking the truth inadvertently), saying that Republicans are mobilizing against healthcare reform because they really, really want it to fail and become "Obama's Waterloo."
The jury on this, of course, is still out. We may have the answers after Obama's third hundred days, but for now it remains the biggest issue being fought over in the boxing ring of American politics.
But other things happened in the past three months than just the health care fracas. Let's take a look at some of them.
The best of times
(This technically happened in the first hundred days of Obama's term, but since I jumped the gun and wrote an article titled "Obama's First 94 Days" instead, I have to at least mention it here...) Republican Senator Arlen Specter jumps the aisle and declares he's now a Democrat. This will prove crucial later (if Al Franken ever gets seated), since the balance of power in the Senate will now effectively be 60-40 in favor of the Democrats. Sixty, as we all know in the political world of wonkdom, equals "filibuster-proof majority" -- if you can get them all to vote the same way, that is.
Obama continues to address the American people as adults, and from what I can tell, The People appreciate this respect. Of course, there are still those afflicted with Obama Derangement Syndrome, but maybe if we pass health care reform we can do something about that. Ahem.
Obama has been talking less (or at the very least believing less) about "bipartisanship" as he faces one of the most partisan bunch of Republicans Congress has ever seen -- which is saying a lot, I might add. The reality of their brick-wall strategy is finally beginning to sink in to the White House, and we're seeing a lot less of the "invite them over for drinks" sort of buddy-buddy photo-ops which Obama tried in his first 100 days. One wonders if he'll still be going through these sorts of motions in Year Three, or Year Four.
The president was given a political gift at the beginning of his second 100 days in office, when Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced he was stepping down. This allowed Obama a choice for the Supreme Court, and one that shouldn't have been all that contentious, since a liberal was stepping down (to be replaced, everyone fully expected, by another of Souter's ilk). More on this later.
Of course, Obama was attacked for his choice of nominee for the high court before he had even made up his mind. No real surprise there. But picking a Latina for his nominee was an absolutely brilliant (if somewhat expected) move. This was a two-for-one, since she is a woman and also a minority (who both turned out in droves to help Obama get elected). Losing Latino support is like a wood-frame building getting eaten by termites for the Republican Party. Allow me to explain that, so it is not misunderstood. Termites do their destructive work (for the most part) invisibly. And eventually, if untreated, they cause the building to collapse. The termites, in this example, are the racist and anti-immigrant forces within the Republican Party. Who, naturally, demanded that GOP Senators vote against Sotomayor. While I am writing this before the actual vote, it will be interesting indeed to see which Republicans vote for her in the end. Because, long-term, losing all Latino support could turn even Texas a very nice shade of Democratic blue. So, as I said, this was a brilliant move for Obama.
Obama gets a budget blueprint through Congress on schedule. If you don't think this is an astonishing achievement, then you don't know much about how Washington works. Of course, this isn't the actual budget, which consists of about a dozen "appropriations" bills later in the year, but Obama's second 100 days end up fairly positively on this front as well, as the House passes all of these before their August break. The Senate still lags a bit, but manages to pass a few. Passing a budget on time is really BIG news in Washington, but only if you're a real wonk about the ins and outs of the legislative process.
Obama signs a credit card reform bill, which passes the House 357-70, with 105 Republicans voting for it (how's that for bipartisanship?). Although weaker than it could have been, this is the first time in a long long time such legislation has made it into law, so it's a true accomplishment for Obama.
The House passes a cap-and-trade energy bill, but it's future is uncertain over in the Senate.
An important milestone was reached in Iraq, as U.S. troops pull out of the cities on time for the end-of-June deadline. To give credit where credit is due, this was largely laid out by President Bush in the Status Of Forces Agreement signed last year, but the fact that the milestone came and went successfully can be chalked up to President Obama.
Obama had a sticky situation with a huge collection of photos which documented Americans torturing prisoners. He waffled a bit, and then in the end decided to block their release. This didn't earn him any points with his base, but did earn him a lot of points with the CIA and the Pentagon.
Obama managed to get the health care industry heads to a table, for a meeting that was largely a photo op. This meeting is mentioned in the next section, as well, though, I should warn you.
Congress meets Obama's deadline of Memorial Day to pass bills on military procurement and the credit card bill mentioned earlier. These sorts of "deadlines" are always a bit of a political stunt (and gamble, it should be added), but the fact that Congress jumped through this hoop was indeed a feather in Obama's cap.
Hillary Clinton extends some benefits to gay employees at the State Department. But all is not exactly coming up roses for Obama with the gay rights movement, as we'll explore later. But, as a result of the friction between the White House and the gay rights leaders, they all held a sit-down and a photo-op about a week later, which did soothe a few ruffled feathers.
Analog television, or "the way teevee has worked since the dawn of time -- you know, when Regis Philbin first appeared on-screen," died. Every television made before very recently stopped working. But surprisingly, the government's "$40 for a digital converter" program, as well as the extension of the changeover by a few months, made this a fairly smooth transition for all. At least, no overwhelming problems were reported on my television... hmm... wait a minute....
Thankfully, that last item meant no more of the eight hundred million ads on television telling us all analog TV was about to die, which became more annoying than the transition itself.
Obama fulfills a campaign promise and gives a wingding of a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt. This goes a long way toward changing America's image in both the region, and the world itself. Obama accomplishes this singlehandedly, one of the shining moments for him in his second 100 days.
On a much, much smaller scale, Obama was about as endearing as a politician can get when he -- during a townhall meeting -- wrote a note for a fourth-grade girl, excusing her from class that day, and then personally made sure she got the note.
On health care reform, two committees in the House pass the same bill, and later the third and final committee gets its act together on a separate bill. The Senate gets a bill out of Teddy Kennedy's committee, but lags on Max Baucus' committee. This is not as far as Obama would have hoped to be at this point, but it's a lot farther than Clinton got, so that's something, at least.
Obama, unlike the hotheads in Congress, is a lot more circumspect in his comments on the fiasco surrounding the Iranian "election." This, although not a lot of people saw it at the time, was the correct thing to do.
Obama gives a fairly good press conference on health care reform in June. Light on specifics, though, which we'll talk about in a bit.
Senator Al Franken finally gets seated. This officially sets the Senate at 58 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 40 Republicans. While the Independents caucus reliably with the Democrats, the absence of two Democratic senators for health reasons (Kennedy and Byrd) becomes much more crucial. Both Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and outgoing Senator Norm Coleman (who are both Republicans) do the right thing in the end, and allow Franken to be seated without further delay.
One of the best things Obama has going for him in the later part of his second 100 days is the fact that healthcare reform proponents have been guarding his left flank by running very effective ads in the home districts of recalcitrant Democratic members of Congress, to pressure them on their votes. Obama leaks that he doesn't think it's a good idea, but secretly he's got to be cheering them on.
Obama makes barely a ripple in the news by revitalizing the idea of nuclear arms reduction with the Russians -- something that would have been front-page news for weeks, if not months, not twenty years ago. How times change.
Which brings up a broader point: Obama has done a wonderful job, for the most part, of staying above the "24-hour news cycle" mentality when dealing with the media. Much to the media's consternation, of course. This is indeed a good, good thing.
Obama photo-op damage control (the "beer summit") goes surprisingly well, on all fronts.
Obama's poll numbers, while admittedly post-honeymoon, may indeed be ticking up in the past week or so. Too early to accurately predict whether this will become a new trend or not.
But the crowning achievement on Barack Obama's second 100 days has got to be Sonia Sotomayor becoming our next Supreme Court Justice. Souter stepping down at the beginning of this period was one bookend to Obama's second 100 days, and Sotomayor being confirmed by the full Senate provided the second bookend to this period.
The worst of times
This is running a bit long, so I'm going to adopt a snappier style for these bullet points. Fair warning.
Obama continues to disappoint on national security campaign promises.
In many ways, the Obama Doctrine on national security is a continuation of the Bush Doctrine on the same issues. This is disillusioning to many who strongly supported Obama on the campaign trail and believed him back then.
Obama shows absolutely zero inclination, for instance, to support any sort of "Truth Commission" to look into the Bush administration's misdeeds while in office.
Obama is beginning to appear a bit naive on the whole "bipartisanship" issue. Everyone else knows by now that the Republican Party has staked its future electoral chances on destroying Obama's agenda, but the only one who hasn't seemed to cotton on to this is Obama himself. Of course, it could all still be an act for the cameras, but who knows at this point?
Obama is shying away from issues he said he'd "champion" on the campaign trail. The most public of these boiled over with gay rights supporters during this period, who are beginning to wonder "If not now, when?" about their pet issues. Obama has not shown a lot of progress (or even support, for that matter) on repealing either "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" or the federal Defense Of Marriage Act. And DADT and DOMA are core issues for a lot of gays who believed Obama when he said he'd be their "fierce advocate." The advocacy, to be honest, isn't looking all that fierce. This boiled over at a scheduled gay rights Democratic fundraiser, but Obama does deserve credit for smoothing things over soon afterwards. Not much credit, but some.
The credit card reform bill, while it passes on Obama's schedule, leaves oodles of time for the banks to hike everyone's rates before it takes effect. Which they promptly do.
The Republican playbook on healthcare reform from none other than framing guru Frank Luntz is leaked before the whole battle even begins. Sadly, Democrats ignore this en masse even though intrepid bloggers were warning them of the seriousness of the opposition back then (ahem).
Obama's refusal to release the torture photos hurts him with his base.
The healthcare industry leaders photo-op results in a smoke-and-mirrors promise from them, which (mere days later) they publicly back down from.
Obama's White House is more transparent than Bush's -- but that's not saying a lot. It's nowhere near as transparent as Obama promised it would be from the campaign trail, that's for sure.
Obama punts on allowing needle exchange to combat AIDS in budget legislation.
Single-payer supporters are not only the only people not given "a seat at the table" in the healthcare reform debate, Senator Max Baucus actually has some doctors arrested for demanding to be heard by his committee. Not exactly a good thing.
In a setback for Obama, Congress refuses to allow funding for the closing of Guantanamo.
"Senator" Roland Burris (sorry, but the quotes have been earned, I feel, at this point) continues to embarrass the Senate seat that Barack Obama used to hold. At least he won't be running for election next year (that is not a typo, as -- again -- I cannot use the term "re-election" here).
Speaking of Democratic senators who are a "worst of times" for Obama, I have two more words: Max Baucus.
There has been a disturbing reluctance from Obama to take any side in the healthcare reform debate, which is beginning to hurt him. His press conference on the subject made no real news, because Obama didn't offer any (in his words) "bright lines in the sand" on the subject. This is beginning to be seen as a real lack of leadership on the issue, and Obama doesn't even seem aware of this ebbing support. Which, like I said, is disturbing.
Rahm Emanuel has leaked a few things to the media (or been the subject of leaks) which show him to be much more willing to compromise so much that he gives the store away, just to put a bill on Obama's desk to be signed. This bears watching closely in the future.
By refusing to deal with a lot of national security questions -- especially any dealing with his predecessor's term in office -- Obama is going to face a constant "drip drip drip" of these things being slowly made public. This also bears watching in the future.
Obama, in his most recent primetime press conference, says a cop "acted stupidly," which -- even if said cop did indeed act stupidly -- is a bad thing for a president to say to the nation, on quite a few levels.
Obama ends his second hundred days with his approval ratings down. The month of July was particularly bad for him, when his "honeymoon" period definitely ended. Poll-watchers can find further details at my ObamaPollWatch site, which admittedly still needs a lot of work.
The age of (media) foolishness
This is the part of the program where we examine not what was actually important during the past 100 days, but rather what the mainstream media told us was important. There's a definite difference between those two, it should be noted. A chasm the size of the Grand Canyon, actually. So here, in very abbreviated fashion, is what the mainstream media considered crucially important during this time period.
The H1N1 flu's gonna kill everyone, probably by next Tuesday.
Having a robust public health system is absolutely unconnected with that previous item, so please don't try to connect any dots here.
Obama is a socialist.
Empathy in a judge is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, "empathy" itself is probably a bad thing.
Only lefty judges are ever "activist."
Obama is a racist.
Illegal immigrants are gonna kill everyone with the flu, Obama is insane not to immediately shut the border with Mexico.
Pulling troops out of Iraq was Obama's decision (it wasn't, it was the SOFA under Bush).
Pelosi picks fight with CIA, therefore Pelosi is wrong because the CIA would never never lie to anyone, much less Congress. Where do people get these crazy ideas?
What's that? The CIA actually did lie to Congress? Sorry, no time to cover that story.
GOP votes (not) to change name of Democrats to the "Democrat Socialist Party." Lefty bloggers are massively disappointed at losing this prime chance to ridicule Republicans.
"Tea parties" are the most important American political protest, ever, and must be covered wall-to-wall.
Did we mention that the flu's gonna kill everyone?
Obama's a fascist, and will take over all private industry, likely by Christmas.
Robots are the only acceptable nominees for the Supreme Court.
How the heck could ANY "wise Latina woman" EVER do anything better than ANY white man? Tommyrot! The very idea is simply pre-POS-terous! In an unrelated -- totally unrelated -- story, the last minority voter has officially left the Republican Party.
Even though there's been an ongoing gigantic donnybrook of a fight in the RNC, it is always "the Democrats who are divided," as far as the media's concerned. Republicans fighting? Nothing to see here, move along....
The Republicans are all going to vote for healthcare reform if you pay for it by raising middle-class taxes and tax employer health benefits. [Editor's note: this one still makes me laugh out loud.]
Quoting Senator Jeff Sessions' belief that Sotomayor is a racist during her Senate hearing is newsworthy. Mentioning the fact that Sessions was previously turned down for a judgeship -- because of his racist comments on the job -- by the very same committee is not, so please don't bring it up.
Isn't everyone dead yet from the flu? It's coming, so be very afraid.
Obama proves that he would, indeed, kill a fly.
If a female senator demands to be addressed as "Senator," we should all make fun of her for doing so.
A thankful pause, while a Republican politician publicly implodes: Mark Sanford goes to South America. Or nude hiking. Or something.
Another thankful pause, for the gift that just keeps on giving: Sarah Palin!
Michael Jackson was more important than any human being who lived in the 20th century, and deserves news coverage on this scale.
President Obama appears to check out a young girl's rear end -- which is more important than talking about reducing nuclear weapons.
Even though it is a foregone conclusion Sotomayor will be confirmed, media goes crazy looking for drama in Senate hearings.
Obama's going to kill granny. By next Tuesday. And he won't even be using the flu.
Speaking of which, the flu's gonna kill everyone.
We can't let government takeover Medicare!
Obama was born in Kenya. Oh, and the world is flat. And we faked the moon landing. And John F. Kennedy was assassinated by John Lennon. Or something. More "birther" coverage!
The Dow Jones climbing above 9,000 has nothing to do with the economy, which is bad by the way, and will never get better under Obama, and even if it does, it won't be to his credit, so there!
Obama's comment about the Gates arrest was more important than the other 98 percent of the press conference, which was on (yawn) healthcare reform. This just in... Americans think a comedian is the most trustworthy news broadcaster in America. Of course, these two could not possibly be related items, right?
Obama getting together to talk things out with two guys over a beer is the equivalent of a "summit" between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Breathless reports on the brands of beer to be drunk will run on the late news, so stay tuned!
People standing up and yelling at townhall meetings is more newsworthy than the actual issues involved.
Cash for clunkers is a failure because it was too popular.
Oh, and, of course, the flu's going to kill us all, by noon tomorrow.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
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