Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Truly Meaningful Milestone

Today marks President Barack Obama’s 100th day in office. Some pundits and media commentators have been calling this a largely symbolic milestone that doesn’t much matter – which strikes me as odd, since assessing the President’s First 100 Days is a longstanding tradition; why should we consider this process less important for Obama? Conversely, others are celebrating like it’s New Year’s Eve and their first-born’s first birthday rolled into one. Almost irrelevantly, the dumbstruck opposition have no words for how much harm they think he’s caused (English translation: he’s spent much too much money, he relies too heavily on teleprompters, and they question the authenticity of his birth certificate. Give me a break!).

I believe that most people – myself wholeheartedly among them – are quietly in awe, not just of what he’s done in so short a time, but of his immediate rise to the occasion; his confidence, leadership and great calm in the face of enormous difficulties; his ability to both multi-task and delegate; his eloquence; his understanding of complex issues; his physical and mental energy; his sense of humor and charm; and his determination to effect the changes we need; to be, as he told us, persistent.

On the site Organizing for America/Foundation for Change, you can explore the President’s accomplishments, nationally and state-by-state. For sure, his initiatives regarding the economy, health care, housing, education, energy, The Wars, and emphasizing the importance of public participation/service as a key ingredient in healing the nation, are remarkable. Yet it’s interesting to note that while his approval rating as a leader is through the roof, many folks are displeased with at least some of his positions, policies and undertakings. Some think he’s gone too far, others think he hasn’t gone far enough, still others think he’s gone the wrong way (particularly in dealing with the financial crisis in all its complicated dimensions). I agree with some of this – but to paraphrase Mr. Obama’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

On the whole, I’m incredibly impressed, primarily because some of the most dire circumstances, issues and events he’s had to deal with weren’t even on the table throughout most of the Campaign Without End. During Obama’s interview on 60 Minutes a few weeks back, he was downright jocular about the mess he’s coping with, laughing the laugh of a man who knows that if he doesn’t laugh he’ll cry his heart out. “If anyone had told me two years ago that Iraq would be the least of my problems, I’d have said they were crazy,” he said. Is this not so?

Yesterday, when the President had to deal with the sudden urgency of the swine flu epidemic and the incomprehensibly stupid/insensitive matter of Air Force One flying around Lower Manhattan (for a training exercise and photo op, with a fighter jet on its wing!) to the hysterical consternation of thousands of people who had 9/11 flashbacks as a result, I thought to myself: the only thing this man hasn’t had to deal with yet is frogs and locusts falling from the sky. But hey, the year is young.

The things I’ve been most impressed with during these First 100 Days are the [relatively] smaller actions and remarks that demonstrate beyond any possible doubt that we have been blessed with a leader who is as smart as Bush was stupid, as caring as Bush was indifferent, as rational as Bush was crazy, as personally and politically gracious as Bush was coarse, adversarial and self-serving, and as communicative (“transparent”) as Bush was secretive. I was so glad that Obama’s several trips abroad gave him a successful opportunity to undo some of the hatred and mistrust of America that Bush engendered. And he sure held his own at all those big international confabs.

Plus, I think it’s fabulous that he and the First Lady hosted the first-ever Passover Seder in the White House. I applaud his lifting the ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins of fallen American soldiers. I’m deeply grateful that he’s reversed some of Bush’s anti-woman policies regarding family planning counseling, both foreign and domestic, as well as removing the ridiculous obstacles to essential stem-cell research.

And I hugely respect that he’s made clear – from the start and during his address to the National Academy of Sciences this week – that “the days of ideology superseding science are over.” Barack Obama, who is a man of great and abiding personal spiritual faith, has not, is not, and will not, impose his private beliefs on his public policies. In a country founded on the separation of church and state, this shouldn’t be such a big deal – but after eight years of President Born-Again-My-Way-or-the-Highway, Obama’s attitude is a revelation and a victory for us all.

And I love that in the midst of all this tumult, Barack Obama made time to take his wife out to dinner, go to a basketball game (pictured above), get the kids the promised puppy, and in general, simultaneously make the presidency more casual and accessible and more effective and respected. He goes to bed early, gets up early, he and Michelle work out together, and family time is a top priority. Talk about “Life Balance”! Congratulations, Mr. President; your First 100 Days have been splendid: remarkably productive and virtually unprecedented in their substance and style. Keep up the good work. The vast majority of the country – and the world – are behind you.

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