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Why Job Creation Won't Come Easy In Obama's Second Term

Chris Kirkham   |   February 11, 2013    7:39 PM ET

When President Barack Obama steps to the podium for Tuesday night's State of the Union address, nearly everyone expects him to lay out proposals to generate job growth.

But nearly everyone also expects Republicans in the House to oppose whatever the president proposes, citing the need to limit spending to close the federal budget deficit. It’s the dynamic that has ruled Washington for the last five years as both parties seek a response to the economic crisis: Should the government spend more money in the short-term to boost demand and reduce unemployment, or immediately tackle a budget deficit that until recently topped $1 trillion?

It seems at times as if the political debate has become divorced from the real-life needs of people.

"A lot of people out there in the real world are scratching their heads and wondering why Washington isn't doing more about jobs, as opposed to budget deficits," said Jared Bernstein, a former Obama administration economist who is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "I'm not saying it's easy, but that's the job of the leader: To explain to folks that we need to do both, and there's a sequencing to it."

Self-imposed deadlines such as the fiscal cliff and the so-called sequester at the end of this month, which would phase in $85 billion worth of cuts through September, have kept Congress laser-focused on the deficit. Obama's last major job-creation initiative, a $447-billion package introduced in September 2011, failed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

But many economists argue that meaningful job creation must start with the types of programs put forth in that jobs bill -– for example, $175 billion in spending on new roads, modernizing public schools and community colleges and rehabilitating foreclosed homes and businesses.

It's unlikely the dynamic in Congress will soon change. But economists point to the 1990s –- a time of rapid economic growth and declining budget deficits -– as an instructive example for the present. Deficits tend to decline after periods of economic growth, they argue.

jared bernstein economy
Graphic courtesy of Jared Bernstein

"This idea that we're going to squeeze ourselves and in that way get a surplus -– you don't really find that in history," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "We tend to think that cuts are painful, and therefore virtuous, like an athlete who endures pain. Well, cutting off your hand doesn't make you a good athlete."

Republicans have remained steadfast in pushing for deficit reduction. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) argued "there is no substitute for getting our fiscal house in order.

"There is no greater moral imperative than to reduce the mountain of debt facing us, our children and theirs," Cantor said. The agenda would focus on "creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families," and to "restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits."

Other economists argue that months of budget brinkmanship came after Obama lost control of the message on how to best promote economic recovery.

"The president has not tried very hard, and I think he has been part of the problem," said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington think tank. "He has given too much credence to the notion that we have to do something about the deficit now. Economically, that's completely wrong. The crisis in unemployment is a catastrophe for these families."

Economist Justin Wolfers, now at the University of Michigan, wrote in a blog last summer that he had "never seen the disjunction between the political debate about economics and the consensus of economists be as large as it is today." The disjunction, he wrote, "is incredibly damaging."

Economists said the debate needs to shift toward measures that will produce demand for jobs in the short term, leaving deficits for after unemployment is addressed.

Republicans have panned Obama's 2009 economic stimulus. Economists, however, generally agree that the plan successfully reduced unemployment. More than 90 percent of economists polled by the University of Chicago said the unemployment rate at the end of 2010 was lower because of the stimulus. More than half believed the benefit exceeded the cost, according to the poll.

"The fact is that temporary employment measures, ones that get into the system and get out, don't hurt you on the deficit," said Bernstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "There's nothing inconsistent with a plan that would help create jobs in 2013 and 2014, and then get out of the way."

Obama's Second Hundred Days

  |   August 6, 2009    7:10 PM ET

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The Omnipresent President

  |   May 13, 2009    4:06 PM ET

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Days 641 and 1376

Bob Franken   |   April 29, 2009   10:02 AM ET

Pity the poor news media. Their hysteria over the Swine Flu disrupted all their elaborate plans for overcovering Barack Obama's first hundred days.

Not that it put a stop to them but things can get confusing when a contrivance is interrupted, particularly when it doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot. It's mainly another drum that cable news can beat relentlessly. Now we have two we can overdo.

Don't worry, there will be plenty of 100-day analysis, more than enough. After all, it's the opportunity for all media, credible and wildly incredible, to tell us what it all means...real and wacko.

So on this hundredth day for the new president, in 2009 A.D., which, in the new Obamian calendar is the year 1, A.B., we will all go bonkers dissecting an administration that hasn't really had a chance to do much more than talk the talk.

We'll have a much clearer idea how things have gone on Day 641 in 2 A.B., when we come up to that other planned media event -- the off-year election. And, of course, Day 1,376, when President Obama presumably runs for a second term.

By that time, we will probably look back at what the pundits said at the 100-day mark and laugh. Actually, we won't do that because a big advantage of being a pundit is that no one remembers for even a 100 seconds what we said.

We will recall everything that President Obama said, if, for no other reason, than we will be reminded of it ad nauseoum in all the campaign adds.

On the 641st day and the 1,376th, we voters get to weigh in on the Obama administration's performance, or least how the two sides spin it.

Will he have been able to lead the steep climb out of our economic Hell and gain enough enforcement power to pry the stranglehold that the rich and powerful few have over the rest of us?

Will he have disentangled us from the foreign policy and national security disasters that are not only a result of a bungling previous administration, but misguided jingoism of many decades? Will his early moves end being all talk and no action?

For that matter, will he be able to build on a good start and have any luck rebuilding the burnt bridges with the Muslim world, actually with most of the world?

Will he have presided over desperately needed change in our medical delivery system, or will the nation's health still be in the hands of uncaring profiteers?

While we're on the topic of profiteers, will all the polluters finally stop co-opting the word "green" and pretending that their corporation opposed global warming before opposing global warming was cool? Will they now join the administration in ambitious efforts to rescue the environment, and will President Obama have the skill needed to convince Americans we can't continue destroying the world?

Speaking of a toxic atmosphere, will we have had a chance to force the White House people to release the memos that describe the internal debate over the release of the torture memos?

What about the opposition? Will the Republicans still be screaming "SOCIALISM" and running against the French? Will anybody remember Sarah Palin besides Tina Fey? Will the party have come up with a candidate who doesn't carry more baggage than a bellman?

What kind of surprises lie ahead? Which is a really dopey question that we can't really answer because they wouldn't be surprises, now would they?

Actually, surprises can dominate a presidency, sometimes distort it. 9/11 is the obvious example. And already we've seen the piracy mini-crisis, and now Swine Flu, as indicators of how an administration reacts when it's blindsided.

Also, while Arlen Specter is probably not thrilled at being grouped with Swine Flu, his party switch of expedience will provide a test on how well the Democrats in the White House and Congress can take advantage when something unexpected comes their way... or how they'll blow it.

The Specter switch certainly was a test of the ability of the White House and Democratic operatives, which they passed with flying colors. They took full advantage of Senator Specter desperate adherence to the two rules of politics: "First get elected" and "Second get re-elected".

Those are the ultimate tests of a politician's success. While, obviously, they're not necessarily the best way to ultimately gauge a government, you can't govern if you're not in office. And back to Barack Obama, let's have a ball with all the huge attention paid to the 100-day marker, even though it's just fluff.

How bad could it be? It's not that we've had nothing to talk about.
In fact, we've been inundated with "All Obama all the Time" coverage.

Is the real importance of the 100-day milestone that it signals an end to such a single focus. I wouldn't bet on that, but as the days accumulate, the results of this presidency will too, and at some point, we need to spend more time on accountability than personality. Am I right or wrong?

It occurs to me that quite a few are puzzling over what "A.B." is supposed to mean. It can be whatever you'd like. It can stand for "After Barack", of course. Or "After Bush", which is what the Obama people have made the hundred days all about.

As for the Swine Flu, we can only hope we're not still covering that after 100 days. Given the singular focus on Barack Obama, we should know by then whether he personally ended that crisis so can return to his more mundane problems like the world economic collapse. And we can do our 200-Day stories.

Maybe the White House can mark that occasion by arranging a special photo op flight of Air Force One. What d'ya think?

It'll certainly be brought up as we approach days 641 and 1376.

The First 100 Days and Guns

  |   April 29, 2009    9:51 AM ET

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Getting our Game Back: The First Hundred Days

Lorelei Kelly   |   April 29, 2009    3:00 AM ET

If we kill people, we lose the war. The most significant achievement of the Obama Administration thus far is a consistent and systematic understanding that security as we know it has fundamentally changed. Today, legitimacy (having the moral authority to lead) is getting as much attention as containment (dominate, isolate, destroy) in our strategic plans. Communicating a new framework about how to keep Americans safe is no small challenge in a political environment that has suffocated normal and healthy dialogue about many issues. Number one among them is public conversation about the role of the military in American democracy. And secondarily, the role of the military in our national security. Legitimacy requires a sense of shared expectation and uniform rules. This has huge implications for everything from defense budget priorities to criticism of allies like Israel--because most of the time the use of force is anathema to legitimacy.

We must have this conversation ultimately....for it not only will determine the soul of the American military (our most beloved institution) it will determine the fate of our nation. We can't privatize our way out of asking hard questions about what the military should be doing. We can't be persuasive through hardware dominance. We look foolish and unconvincing when we say one thing and do another. We can't have it both ways.

Here's another way to put it. Today, we have finally recognized that we're moving away from a world where safety was linear and predictable and where weapons technology provided a fix --to a world that is much more random and chaotic and where skilled human beings are the answer. Intentional communication and strategies for participation are the art and science of violence prevention. The Marine Corps at Quantico just conducted a week-long wargame on conflict prevention. What should the military's role be in this new world? The military hates surprises. It prepares based on what it experiences. But only civilian elected leaders can turn their experience into a security strategy.

The metrics that the military uses to prioritize are shifting to recognize trans-national threats. For example, contagious ideology thrives where social and political vacuums exist. Modern doctrine views the safety of people across borders to be as important as the safety of people within borders. Counter insurgency is one operational example of these priorities--where only about 1/3 of the activities require traditional military tools like shooting guns (called "kinetic"). The Marines are the most progressive of the services--and their lens on prevention represents a major shift, but there is no guarantee it will be followed through with systemic change. And no matter how happy we are that the military is engaged in prevention, it should not be the lead agency on these activities. For us to be legitimate, civilians must fill that role.

Some illustrations from an Army friend: In the 1940s military planners scoped out threat scenarios based on questions like: Where is their navy fleet? Why is their Army missing from the Polish border? Is it doing an exercise? Better find it. Arms control treaties with their acronym soup and bizarre permutations of mutual suicide were the ultimate example of countable criteria. Today, additional criteria are less countable, but still measurable. Is there a court system that renders satisfied judgments? Are human rights activists being murdered? How many girls are in school? Was the last election fair? Who has clean drinking water?

To see if our elected representatives in Congress are listening to the advice of civilian and military professionals--watch what happens to the Obama-Gates defense budget. Even though it is 4% higher than Bush's budget--its intentions are clearly moving resources away from Cold War weapons platforms and toward policies that require a different strategy and far more civilian capacity. At long last. But Congress is already making moves to put some of the eliminated weapons programs back into the war supplemental. Unless we somehow develop a domestic constituency for modern security priorities that can rival the defense industry, these congressional antics will not change. (Hillary supporters--if you want to see her become the most successful Secretary of State in history--organize her political base into this state by state network) And federally funded state universities, would you please come up with some defense economy conversion research for your congressional delegations?

If our security priorities were aligned with legitimacy as a security strategy we would demand that the US Senate pass a treaty omnibus much like it passes the defense budget year after year...rushed through with urgency and lots of patriotic salutes. I'm not kidding. Law of the Sea, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, International Criminal Court, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). They've been debated incessantly. Pass them all in one fell swoop. We would be safer overnight.

When President Obama says that our ideals will make us stronger, he's rebuilding our moral authority. When he speaks about America having the obligation to lessen the nuclear threat through cooperative efforts--he's invoking a sense that the world has taken us up on our belief in the individual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we need to deliver some part of that. Strategies of persuasion are put forward, strategies of coercion kept in the back pocket. As it should be. Framing, re-framing, convening, constant communication, taking early risks--these are all things that Americans are good at. The sunk cost of the Bush years was largely paid with our political capital--relationships, cooperation based on self-interest, predictable patterns, transparency,respect for rule of law. I'm waiting to see if our new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan will cause fewer civilian casualties. And I'm waiting to see whether or not we really, actually leave Iraq. I would do backflips for a truth commission with subpoena power on use of torture. I really like our President's constant recitation of a new vision for America in the world. This vision is so compelling that it makes occasional slip ups--like invoking "crippling sanctions for Iran" seem weird and out of place...President Bush knocked us off our game. President Obama is getting it back. I give the first hundred days a B plus.

p.s. I'm willing to allow grade inflation in exchange for a speech about basic civics and the role of the military in American democracy...perhaps in another 100 days?

ObamaHealth: The Prognosis at 100 Days

Richard (RJ) Eskow   |   April 28, 2009   10:10 PM ET

We can find out which medical treatments work best with "clinical effectiveness research" (CER). Newt and Hillary both love it - but some people are against it just because the President supports it. They say these measurements would be too "arbitrary." Well, speaking of arbitrary measurements ...

It's Day 100. That's early to draw any conclusions, but people will anyway (bringing to mind Henny Youngman's opening line, delivered as he walked out on stage: "How do you like me so far?") A fairer measurement might be: How have these 100 days measured up against expectations? Giving a single grade would be too arbitrary, so we'll give several instead, like doctors do when they check your vital signs:

Building Public Support

So, has the President been effective at articulating the need for health care reform? Has he been building a broad base of support for the idea that we need to change the system? What, are you kidding? This is Obama we're talking about. When we talk about communications we're in his house - and it shows in the polling numbers.

You'd think that the economic crisis might lead people to conclude "we can't afford health reform right now." While that's a familiar refrain in Congress, the public's singing another tune. An April poll by the Kaiser Foundation shows that "59% of U.S. residents believe health care reform is now more important than ever," while only 37% say that "reform would be too costly to attempt during the current economic climate."

That's a home run for the President.

How did he achieve these numbers? First, by adopting a position forcefully supported by Peter Orszag (according to Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile): that health reform, if done correctly, is deficit reduction. The New Yorker piece describes Orszag's "obsession" with "the findings of a research team at Dartmouth showing that some regions of the country spend far more money on health care than others but that patients in those high-spending areas don't have better outcomes than those in regions that spend less money." That would be the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, designed by Dr. John Wennberg. It's a critical tool for understanding how healthcare works in this country.

Orszag's fascination with this kind of research has pushed ideas like CER and results-based doctor reimbursement to the forefront, and Obama's been able to communicate the notion that reform can be cost-effective, despite scare-mongering on the topic from his opponents. That's a big win.

Grade: A+.


It wasn't supposed to be this way. By now Health Czar Tom Daschle was supposed to have used his DC experience, his insight into the healthcare system, and the power vested in him by the President to launch health reform in a broad and dramatic way. But the Daschle nomination was derailed and the HHS spot stayed open. Things should start to pick up with today's news that Kathleen Sebelius' nomination is moving forward.

Progress in filling top health positions has been slow, as the Washington Post points out. This was inevitable, given the delay in filling the top slot, and it should change now. And while there was some grumbling in the press about empty seats during a potential epidemic, there's nothing to suggest that the interim players haven't been covering things just fine.

Power is always decentralized in Washington, and even more so when the President is a consensus-builder by nature and by choice. In the absence of a 'czar,' influence has coalesced around players like Peter Orszag and Sen. Max Baucus. Orszag has been exploring some of the more interesting corners of health policy research, while Baucus has defined core principles for the Democratic leadership.

Then there's Ezekiel Emanuel, the physician who's also a martial arts black belt (thus capable of controlling both supply and demand for his services). Dr. Emanuel (yes, he's Rahm's brother) is on Orzsag's staff. He's a contrarian and innovator by nature. He'll probably serve as an idea generator and internal gadfly.

The President also appointed David Blumenthal, M.D., as his Health IT Coordinator. Dr. Blumenthal's a health policy expert, not a techie, so he'll probably focus on building an information base for policy objectives. With them all, Obama seems to be building a healthcare team that's strong on imagination and execution.

Grade: B (but expected to rise soon).

Policy Development

We're not much closer to a health policy blueprint than we were on Inauguration Day. Is that a flaw? Not necessarily. Health analysts used to speak of the three qualities of medical care delivery as structure, process, and outcome. Most people focus on structure and outcome, but the President is very much a "process" leader.

We're still in the "process" stage. It began when the President indicated that he'd like to have a consensus bill that includes significant Republican support. While he hasn't withdrawn that statement, he has indicated that he's willing to pass a health bill through the reconciliation process if necessary. That suggests he has basic policy goals he won't compromise, and that he'll override the GOP if necessary to enact them.

What are they? He's not giving specifics yet. He's sketched out broad objectives - rewarding cost-effective medicine, health IT, universal access, and choice - but that's about it. He stood apart from candidates Clinton and Edwards last year in his opposition to health mandates, saying they hadn't been proven necessary to achieve universal coverage. He's not saying that now, and he may have signalled a walk back from that position when he indicated that key reform provisions will be designed in Congress. (Max Baucus supports mandates.)

He's also staying flexible on the "public plan option," which would allow people to buy into a Medicare-like program that would compete with private insurers. As we discussed earlier (in The Sentinel Effect and a radio interview with Bill Scher), these two issues are the defining areas in the struggle to define health reform - both practically and politically. A plan that requires people to buy coverage, but only from private insurers, would be a difficult sell.

Is he behind schedule on defining his health policy? That's the wrong question. He's on a different schedule, one that favors process over policy. He's using the first half of 2009 (or so) to build consensus. If that means leaving critical questions unanswered for now, he's prepared to do that.

Grade: If you want to grade him on outcome already, you don't understand the President.

So where does this leave us? President Obama has not backed down from his commitment to health reform. That means something will be proposed this year, and something will be enacted into law. "Don't talk too soon," said Bob Dylan, "the wheel's still in spin." Turning this process into a meaningful outcome will probably be even harder than the President and his team expect. But it's not impossible - and, as we keep getting reminded, it's needed even more when times are hard.

RJ Eskow blogs when he can at:

A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

The Obama Administration and the Bankers: 100 Days of Solicitude

Dean Baker   |   April 28, 2009    8:41 PM ET

In most areas of public policy the Obama administration has given the country a sharp and welcome break from the policies of the prior administration. Unfortunately, this is not the case with his financial policy. To a large extent Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has continued the Bush-Paulson "save the banks" first approach.

Geithner has continued policies initiated in the Bush administration whereby the banks received vast amounts of money from the public trough while offering relatively little in return. Most of the executives at these banks continue to earn multi-million dollar compensation packages and the shareholders and bondholders have been enriched at the taxpayers' expense.

It is undoubtedly painful for the public to see their tax dollars going to reward the people who are most directly responsible for the economic crisis. The Wall Street banks played a game of high-stakes poker over most of the last quarter century. In the process, the major actors got incredibly wealthy at the expense of ordinary working people.

Now this game has blown up in their face, effectively bankrupting most of the big players, and bringing the economy down in the process. But rather than leave the bankers to suffer the consequences of their own actions, Geithner and Co. are rushing to the rescue with gigantic buckets of taxpayer dollars.

The rationale for this policy is not clear. We have been warned about an implosion even worse than that created by the Lehman bankruptcy if the government follows normal procedure and puts bankrupt giants like Citibank into an FDIC receivership, as is done all the time with smaller banks.

While Secretary Geithner believed that the system could absorb an uncontrolled Lehman bankruptcy last fall, he is now effectively telling the country that even the controlled failure of a major bank would lead to catastrophe, and that taxpayers should be prepared to spend hundreds of billions and possibly trillions of dollars to keep the zombie banks afloat.

It is hard to understand this logic. First, Geithner, along with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, were not crazy to believe that the system could withstand an uncontrolled Lehman bankruptcy, even if was in fact a mistake to let Lehman go under. More importantly, we have a number of safeguards now in place to protect against the sort of panic that followed the collapse of Lehman. There seems little justification for continuing to spread the wealth around to those at the very top of the income ladder.

To justify the upward redistribution implicit in the Geithner policy there have also been serious misrepresentations of the state of the financial system. While the banks certainly are not functioning normally, their condition is not the major obstacle to recovery.

Households with good credit have no difficulty whatsoever getting mortgages as a result of the policies of the Fed and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mortgages are readily available at near record low interest rates. Those with poorer credit histories do have trouble, but this would almost certainly be the case even if the banks were fully solvent.

Large businesses with investment grade credit can readily issue commercial paper through the Fed to deal with their short-term credit needs. In recent weeks, several major firms have also issued bonds at relatively low interest rates, indicating that long-term credit channels are returning to normal for these firms as well.

While smaller and less creditworthy businesses are undoubtedly having more difficulty than usual obtaining credit, this is not the main factor depressing the economy. The basic story is that households are in the process of losing $8 trillion in housing bubble wealth. This has both collapsed housing construction and forced consumers to cut back spending.

The fall in consumer spending is not due to lack of credit or insufficient confidence, it is due to the fact that the average homeowner is losing more than $100k in equity and is now trying to save to make up this lost wealth. There was also a bubble in non-residential real estate, which is now collapsing, further depressing the economy.

In the short-term the only way to make up for the shortfall in demand is with government spending. We will need far more stimulus to make up a gap in spending that is in the neighborhood of $2.5 trillion over a two-year period.

In the longer term we will have to get the trade deficit down to a sustainable level. Moving to more balanced trade will require a large fall in the value of the dollar, which is the key step in correcting our large trade imbalance.

The Obama administration has yet to get serious about setting the long-term economy on a sound footing by bringing the value of the dollar down to a competitive level. Instead it has focused on rescuing the banks with taxpayer dollars. Throwing money at the banks will make the bankers happy - rescuing them from their own incompetence - but it will not set the economy right.

In the area of financial policy the Obama administration gets poor marks for its first 100 days. Instead of a letter grade, we'll just say: "needs improvement."

The First 100 Days -- How Obama Scores on the Nine Qualities of Leadership

Robert Creamer   |   April 28, 2009    6:29 PM ET

At 100 days, the political vital signs of President Obama and his administration are robust. The averages of public polls published by show the president's job approval at 62.2 percent. Sixty-four percent of the voters view him favorably, and only 26.8 percent unfavorably.

More remarkably -- even in the midst of the worst economic downturn in a half-century -- 50.9 percent now think the country is on the right track. That is a massive turnaround in sentiment from the almost 85 percent last October that thought the country was on the wrong track.

What accounts for these terrific numbers? In his first 100 days, Barack Obama has consistently scored very highly on each of the nine qualities that voters use to evaluate leaders.

1). Is Obama on my side? This is the threshold question of all politics. Voters want to know that when the chips are down, a candidate or leader will understand them and stand up for them. Obama has done an outstanding job of communicating empathy for everyday Americans, and willingness to take on special interests on their behalf. His focus on health care, education and energy has demonstrated to average voters that he understands their real world concerns. And his demand for change in the way things are done in Washington resonates with average people who think that those with wealth and power have stacked the "business as usual" deck against them.

On this critical parameter, Obama's only vulnerability has been a nagging fear that his Treasury Department's attempts to rescue the financial system go too far to bail out the Wall Street types, whose sense of entitlement and reckless risk-taking led the country over a financial cliff. The AIG bonus scandal crystallized that feeling. So far Obama has managed to stay on the right side of that divide. It's critical that he stay there.

2). Does Obama have strongly-held values -- or is he just a "typical" politician who does whatever he thinks will help him politically? Voters want leaders who are strongly committed to core values -- and every day they see a President who meets that test. Obama frames everything he says in terms of traditional progressive American values. And he does more than talk. He believes in those values, and his actions reflect it. In his first week of office he ended torture -- no exceptions. He called Americans to a new era of responsibility and sacrifice. He has demonstrated an uncompromising commitment to equality and to the principle that every child should have the same opportunity to live up to their greatest potential.

Every day Obama gives voters a sense that he is centered -- and that he will doggedly defend the things he believes in. That centeredness is one of his most powerful political assets.

3). Is Obama a strong, effective leader? Voters don't just want leaders who are on their side, they want leaders who get things done. Obama's success at moving elements of his program has contributed mightily to the voters' view that the country is on the right track -- and that he is doing a good job. His ability to work with Congress to pass an economic recovery package, his budget, equal pay for women, and expansion of the health care for children have given people a sense that he knows how to get things done. Voters have also watched him succeed in improving America's reputation around the world.

But Obama is keenly aware that in the end it's not just the "sizzle," it's the steak. By this time next year, they will expect to see concrete improvements in their lives. Obama knows he will ultimately be measured by his success in actually improving the economy for everyday Americans. His administration is focused like a laser on making that happen. He said himself, that if he fails to do that he will be a one-term president.

4). Does Obama have Self-Confidence? Voters want leaders who have confidence in themselves. God knows Obama exudes confidence -- genuine confidence, not the kind that morphs into arrogance -- but the kind that allows him to listen to different points of view and then make decisions. It's the kind of confidence that allows him to shake hands with Hugo Chavez and know he's not going to be "taken advantage of."

Obama has the kind of confidence that we loved in the movie character James Bond: cool under fire -- capable of dispatching a dozen bad guys, all without mussing his tuxedo.

The quintessential "self-confidence" moment of his first 100 days came during the episode with the Somali pirates. Right-wing talk show hosts brayed that he was exhibiting a "pantywaist" response to the "crisis." They wanted the kind of bluster and "big talk" they loved from George Bush. Instead, Obama calmly and effectively managed the situation; then when the moment came, Navy snipers took out the pirates with three well-placed shots. Obama looked like Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke.

5). Does Obama Respect Me? Once people's physical needs are met, there is nothing they want more in life than respect. That's because people are driven by their need for meaning. They want to matter. And the converse is true. Voters never forgive being disrespected.

Barack Obama treats everyone with respect. When he speaks to the American people he speaks to them like adults. Just as importantly, he treats everyone in his life with respect -- his family, his staff, his political opponents, the leaders of foreign governments.

6). Does Obama connect with the voters -- do people like him? Chemistry and personal connection is a huge factor for any political leader. It was one of Bill Clinton's greatest assets -- Al Gore, not so much. On this measure Obama is a star. His smile, his family, Bo the dog, his warmth, his vigor, his story, his basketball. People connect. They love him.

7). Does he have integrity? People want leaders with integrity. Obama started out by insisting that no one is to be hired by his administration who has lobbied in the last two years in an arena in which they would be working. He refused to take money from lobbyists during the campaign. While some of his appointees have had tax problems or other issues, so far at least, no serious scandal involving conflict of interest or foxes guarding chicken coops have yet cropped up in the new Administration.

Just as important is the ethos of Obama's inner circle. Obama's administration is packed with people who have come to Washington to get things done -- to change the country. His people want to make history -- not pad their resumes so they can make money.

8). Does he have vision? Yogi Berra used to say that "if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." Voters want leaders who have vision -- who know where they want to take our country over the long run. Especially when it comes to the economy, polls show that voters want their leaders to create a foundation for long-term prosperity -- new "clean energy" jobs, and 21st Century education.

Obama has framed all of his economic initiatives in precisely these terms. Vision for the future is a key element in both in his policy-making and in messaging for this White House.

9). Does Obama inspire me? People want to be inspired by their leaders -- and, of course, Obama delivers like no other president has since John Kennedy.

We mean something very specific when we talk about inspiration. When someone feels inspired, they feel empowered. Inspiration is a sense that you can be more, and do more -- as an individual and as a society. It is a sense of being part of something meaningful that is bigger than yourself, and that you have the ability to play a significant role -- personally -- in making it happen.

On a personal level, of course, great relationships are based on a feeling that you are empowered when you are in the presence of another person. The same is true in politics.

People know instinctively that the feeling of inspiration Obama communicates not only makes us feel good about ourselves -- it also enables us to do more and achieve more than we otherwise would.

The ability to mobilize the American people through inspiration is a major weapon in Obama's arsenal. It will help him be successful at creating a new economy, providing health care for all, and charting a new energy future.

In summary, Obama gets an "A" on every one of the nine qualities that, in my experience, are the most critical measures that voters use to evaluate political leaders.

Of course you might say these parameters don't measure a president's actual accomplishments, only the way he or she is viewed by the voters. I would answer that the chief measure of leadership is the ability to mobilize people in order to make change.

If his first 100 days are an indication of how Barack will perform against these nine measures of leadership, he is poised to be a transformational president.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategis,t and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on

Democracy Hangs in the Balance on Obama's 100th Day

  |   April 28, 2009    3:52 PM ET

Read More:

First 100 Days Retrospective: Ford, Carter, Reagan

  |   April 22, 2009    8:08 PM ET

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Zelizer's Book Corner -- Anthony J. Badger's FDR: The First Hundred Days

Julian E. Zelizer   |   December 11, 2008    8:40 PM ET

There are two myths circulating in Washington. The first is that current economic conditions are too dire for the White House to undertake major initiatives beyond stabilizing the economy. The second related myth is that President-elect Barack Obama will be a political pragmatist and therefore avoid expansive and controversial proposals.

Yet a closer look at FDR's First Hundred Days, which many commentators are currently comparing to Obama's First Hundred Days, suggests that the president-elect can act amidst this crisis, serving both as a pragmatist and an innovator at the same time.

Professor Anthony Badger's FDR: The First Hundred Days (Hill and Wang) reveals the truth behind the myths. America was in a much worse situation in 1933 than it is today. The workforce faced a rate of twenty five percent unemployed and the entire banking system literally stood on the brink of collapse.

The federal government remained highly underdeveloped. Officials didn't even have basic economic data. Before 1935, government officials lacked solid figures about the exact levels of unemployment. The Federal Reserve system was only created in 1914. There wasn't even a mass income tax. So the issue in 1933 was not just whether the government could respond to the economic crisis, but if officials would be willing to build the institutions needed to handle a challenge as severe as the Depression.

Badger's portrait of the New Deal also shows readers how FDR was a pragmatic experimenter. He combined characteristics that today are said to be at odds. FDR tried many programs at once and he did so within a short span of time. Some policies, such as public relief, were directly aimed at improving the state of the economy while others, like the Tennessee Valley Authority, were not.

FDR understood that most Americans did not want socialism nor would they tolerate the unlimited growth of the federal government. His bold actions were also pragmatic in the sense that the president included checks within many of his programs, such as a self-financing tax in the agricultural program as well as the use of state and local oversight for many federal policies.

The president always kept his eye on the budget. As he moved his proposals forward during the First Hundred Days, he sent a strong message to the cabinet and Congress through the prominence of Lewis Douglas, the fiscally conservative Budget Director. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, one of the most liberal voices in the administration, noted that 'every proposition presented at Cabinet meetings is referred to him [Douglas] to see how it affects the Budget and once it is referred his suggestions are not generally limited to finance."

To be sure, some of the programs that came out of this blizzard of pragmatic experimentation were colossal failures. The National Industrial Recovery Act didn't achieve its goals because it granted too much power to big corporations and relied on too much voluntarism.

But pragmatic experimentation also bred success. While critics on the left would later say that FDR refused to go far enough, Badger shows how the administration was able to revitalize the nation's infrastructure and create a framework for economic recovery. The Tennessee Valley Authority and Security Exchanges Commission, for instances, established rules and regulations that would "facilitate... private enterprise" and created conditions needed for long-term economic recovery.

Badger writes:

"after one hundred days of frenzied activity, sixteen pieces of major legislation gave the federal government the power to decide which banks should or should not reopen, to regulate the stock Exchange, to determine the gold value of the dollar, to prescribe minimum wages and prices, to pay farmers not to produce, to pay money to the unemployed, to plan and regenerate a whole river basin across six states, to spend billions of dollars on public works, and to underwrite credit for bankers, homeowners, and farmers."

When the First Hundred Days were over, the economy remained in a state of severe depression and Americans were still frightened about what would come next.

But FDR had successfully established the framework for an even bolder set of policies in the coming years and he had created a sense of public confidence that the government would be able to guide the nation through the crisis. The First Hundred Days also created a powerful commitment from the federal government to the citizenry to achieve security. This commitment has in many ways survived the years since the 1980 election pushed the country toward the right.

More soon from the academy....

Julian E. Zelizer is professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He is the co-editor of "Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s" (Harvard University Press) and is completing a book on the history of national security politics since World War II that will be published by Basic Books. For more information, see