05/09/2009 05:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President Obama: Up to Now

Today Barack Obama completes the first 100 days of his presidency. Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his famous 100 days it has been a benchmark for measuring presidents.

Is it silly to judge the 1,461 days of a presidential term by the first 100 days?


But as you have heard and read over the past couple of days, its sheer silliness did not keep otherwise thoughtful journals and individuals from rendering their judgments on Barack Obama's first 100 days in office. (Of course, the Radical Right's lead Yell Leaders, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck, didn't wait 100 days to find the president wanting, they didn't even wait 100 hours.)

The Los Angeles Times, a very serious newspaper, started publishing overview stories on the Obama presidency the week before the 100 day mark was reached. The New York Times gave significant space in Sunday's paper to comparisons by various historians of Mr. Obama's first 100 days to that of other presidents. Other newspapers did similarly. Even Ben Bradlee, the greatest of all American newspaper editors while at the Washington Post, was featured in a video on the Post's Web site recounting John F. Kennedy's first 100 days. And, as expected, Cable news, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, this became the story of the hour -- and days.

So, why is it silly?

First, you cannot judge a president based upon his first 100 days (someday we will have a "she" in the White House and then we can write about "her" first 100 days). Secondly, most American historians say it is difficult to make such assessments even decades later - much less in a 100 days, or a 1,000.

So why the rush to judgment?

You can start with 24/7 news cycles, of the never-ending need to fill TV or computer screen or airwaves with something, anything. In a world gone twitters there's no escape. And, since the media focuses almost wholly on the White House and its principal occupant, the chance of undoing all of this, of restoring some semblance of order, of establishing there's a world beyond the Oval Office, is slim and none.

That said, I yield to this frenzy to the following degree:

Four days before the election last November I predicted in this space Senator Obama would be elected president, and the Democratic Party would win decisive majorities in the House and Senate. I said it was critical to America's future that change come to Washington.

Going in it was apparent the challenges facing the young president were unprecedented in magnitude, the results of the monumental failures of the Bush presidency.

Marty Schram, a nationally syndicated columnist, in writing about Mr. Obama's first 100 days, wrote this:

"No president has ever been as urgently required to come up with as many new solutions to so many great crises, foreign and domestic, in his first 100 Days than Barack Obama. And Obama has shown himself more than equal to his arduous task...
"Obama had no choice but to try to forge creative solutions for the biggest crises he inherited: One drowning economy beset by bailouts that weren't bailing, a financial failure that swept the world. Two wars (Iraq, Afghanistan). Two nuclear challenges (North Korea, Iran) - and the potential horror of one nuclear nation (Pakistan) someday being falling into Taliban control. Perpetual peril in the Middle East. New peril from Mexico's violent drug cartels. And America's tarnished global image.

Schram outlines a sobering list of challenges, and every decent and fair-minded American - and I do mean decent and fair-minded - should be grateful to President Obama for his efforts to steer the great ship of state in a new direction.

I believe our president is exceptional - in every way. He is blessed with high intelligence and a remarkable calm amid the upheavals of our time. There is about him an innate goodness that you can see, sense, feel. There is about his person a grace sadly missing in his predecessors (Bush, yes, but Clinton had more than a few graceless moments). There is also Michelle Obama, who will, in time, captivate Americans in ways that even Jacqueline Kennedy did not (not an easy admission for a Kennedy person).

I need not repeat what Marty Schram wrote above, "Obama has shown himself more than equal to his arduous task", other than to note the president's approach to bipartisanship, for which I give him exceedingly high marks. The president cannot be faulted because Congressional Republicans have countered his spirit of generosity with loutish behavior.

Is President Obama faultless?

No. I was troubled at the start by the people he chose to head his economic team, essentially Clinton redux, and I remain troubled.

The problem with America remains the divide between Wall Street and Main Street, the extraordinary partition between the rich and the rest of us. The economy, as experienced since the rise of Ronald Reagan, isn't coming back - and if you're betting on its return, you lose.

America is undergoing a profound societal paradigm shift, and the America that was isn't the America that will be. That may upset you, because it's human to resist change, but I believe we will come out of this a better America, an America where we finally achieve the promise inherent in our Founders' decree, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Barack Obama as President of the United States can help us achieve economic fairness and a new order of social justice, but he cannot do that absent you and me, no matter how great his skills. More than ever we need to honor the Athenian ideal of citizenship, which calls us to participate - all of us.

Be grateful Barack Obama is president - and if you practice prayer, say a prayer in his behalf.

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