President Obama is nearing the end of his "First 100 Days." While important policy decisions, both foreign and domestic, are at hand, the President and his team must also think hard and be cautious of what kind of "personality" the White House will be perceived to have by everyone watching. Every decision Obama makes has the capacity to make him look strong, weak, timid, hawkish, radical, compromising, and the list goes on. In addition, in 2009, which he has forecasted to be a "difficult year," it is more than likely that he will be called all of those things, but will have to stay focused and strong in his decision-making.
A recent New York Times article entitled "Despite Major Plans, Obama Taking Softer Stands," by David Herszenhorn and Jackie Calmes notes that the President has been conceding too easily to Congress in policy-making, and is thus begging the question of what he actually is willing to fight for. The fact that Obama backed down from his initial policies regarding farm subsidies, veterans health benefits, and assault weapons is, perhaps, less significant than the aura of weakness that his backing-down may illustrate to his critics.
The "bold proposals" of Obama's candidacy, flooded with words like "hope" and "change," seem to be taking a backseat to the idea of pragmatism and a stern step away from the "non-compromising" attitude of his predecessor. Obama built a substantial part of his candidacy condemning politician's attention to lobbyists, and further, expressing disapproval of the fact that big corporations could force policy decision-making in their favor. Unfortunately, regardless of Obama's accomplishments today and in the years ahead, those statements will come back to haunt him again and again. Tackling the healthcare industry will pose such a problem, and Obama wants to virtually revamp the entire thing. As a candidate, it is a simple and relatively painless task to put a healthcare policy idea up on your website or throw a vague version of it into a speech. However, implementation is a different animal altogether, as lawmakers must face the heavy demands - and heavy hands - of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and investors - not to mention an American public that is finding itself less and less capable of paying for health insurance in our still-dwindling economy.
While critics on the left claim that Obama is being too timid in his policy-making, conservatives claim that his acts of diplomacy with Cuba's Castros, Venezuela's Chavez, and Iran's Ahmadinejad are weakening our nation pay no heed to the "we don't negotiate with terrorists" motto that has been a major pillar of United States foreign policy over the last decade. Further, the right argues that Obama's stimulus bill is more of a "porkulus" and by its limiting of various "free-trade" practices, is representative of that frightful word, "socialism."
In these 100 days, then, Obama has been called "weak," albeit in different ways, by both the left and the right. Of course, with every policy-decision, there will be opposition from both sides, but "weak," "timid," and especially "socialist" are not words that any President wants tacked onto his resumé, and certainly not part of his legacy.
Perhaps, though, both sides are being too hasty to label our President as such. In this "Twitter" generation, opinions are made quickly from facts on the surface, and it seems we are ready to define Obama's legacy before he even hits day 101. Further, one of the core ideologies of Obama's administration is that we must take a little dirt in the short term in order to succeed in the long term. Perhaps, then, he is conceding on smaller, less significant policies, in order to gain momentum and supporters for the more significant ones coming up, namely immigration and healthcare. Obama's advocates also argue that the $787 Billion stimulus bill is an example of him pushing through legislation even if a substantial faction of Congress does not. In that same vein, the left's criticisms that Obama is "weak" or too pragmatic is inevitable, given that he built his campaign on bringing a freshness and legitimacy to Washington that has been missing for decades.
As for the GOP's concerns on foreign policy and big-government economics (Obamanomics, they call them), it's possible that some of these criticisms are, dare I say, outdated. In the post-World War II era, American foreign and domestic policy was based upon a complete and utter rejection of communism and went full speed ahead with free-market capitalism, marking every step of the way with opposition to Soviet ideology and economic practice. Now, decades after the definitive end of The Cold War, both economic and foreign policy no longer have an opposing model by which to base their tenets. Further, evidence would suggest that our relations with Iran and North Korea have only gotten worse since the Bush Administration's steadfast claim that we should not engage in talks with them. Secondly, we must address the question of whether Cuba is truly threatening without the Soviet Union on its team and with Fidel on his last legs. Most recently, Obama has been criticized for engaging in a "handshake" with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. But even if we don't understand the reasoning behind Obama's world tour of hugs and "Kumbayas," we must not forget the success that diplomacy has had historically. Conservatives should remember that President Reagan's conversations with Gorbachev were one of the means by which we got out of that Cold War mess.
As far as Obama's economic policies go, only critics on the very far right are married to the idea that he is turning the United States into a socialist country. The President's economic plan is, in fact, based on a free-market economy, but with more labor and environmental restrictions. During the Bush era, the United States relied on an almost limitless free-market economy. Along with that principle, our country became addicted to the international borrowing that this age of globalization brings. As a result, we've found ourselves in a serious recession with a massive deficit. With this in mind, President Obama has constructed his plan is to look inward and fix our domestic economy while relying less on foreign capital to finance domestic debt and, naturally, less on imports.
Again, these policies are based on long-term success not short-term comfort. President Obama and his Administration will be scrutinized and criticized by the left and the right for every bump in the road and obstacle in his path to success. Like any president, some of his policies will fail and some will succeed. Perhaps most importantly right now, he must be able to withstand pressure and name-calling (see: Socialist) from lobbyists and pundits alike and stay steadfast in his beliefs and ideology if he expects the left to see him as an actual agent of "change" and to avoid the right calling him "weak" or a hypocrite. Finally, if President Obama wants his policies to stand any chance of being successes long-term, and if he does care about a dignified legacy, it is crucial that he not forget the importance of decisiveness in a President and the ability to lead, not merely compromise with, a nation.