The Bigger Picture
Published on May 7th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Since President Obama has now been in office for just over one hundred days, I guess its time for me to give our new President his marks for the first report card of his Presidency. The truth is I don’t really believe it’s fair to give someone a report card on their performance after they have only been on the job for one hundred days, but then who ever said life or politics was supposed to be fair?
As most of you are probably aware I was a strong supporter of President Obama so I can understand if you think my marks for him are a reflection of that support. But please keep in mind that I was also a supporter of former President George W. Bush prior to his ill fated decision to invade Iraq and balloon the federal budget deficit to pay for it. So just as I didn’t hesitate to criticize President Bush and my fellow Republicans in Congress for their actions in office, so too will I not hesitate to call out President Obama whenever I believe he has taken the wrong course of action or has failed to act properly.
As for President Obama’s overall mark I would give him a B+ which is generally considered a good mark by students and politicians in America, but not a great one. President Obama gets this mark based on the equal weighting I am giving him for the style versus the substance of his performance in office thus far. But as President Obama moves deeper into his term in office, that weighting will gradually shift in favor of the substance of how he has performed as President over the style he displays as President.
For his first one hundred days as US President though, I give President Obama an A- for style and a mark of B for substance which when combined give the President an overall mark of B+. While the substance of what a President accomplishes while they are in office counts much more than style they exhibit as President, the President’s style of governing is extremely important during the beginning of their first term in office.
Style is important because members of Congress from both political parties as well as many American voters are looking for clues about how their new President plans to address the problems that both he and the country are confronting. Members of Congress want to see if they will be able to push the new President around and bend him to their will or if he is someone they will have to negotiate and compromise with lest they find themselves being bent to the President’s will.
But American voters are looking for something a bit different than members of Congress. They want to feel that regardless of whether or not they voted for the President, that he appears to be in command of the situation and on top of the problems confronting either or both them and their country. In other words, American voters are anxiously looking to their new President for psychological reassurance that he is up to the task of handling the myriad of foreign and domestic issues that confront US Presidents.
But while President Obama deserves an A for his style performance in regards to giving most Americans precisely the kind of psychological reassurance they needed from their new President, I believe President Obama stumbled a bit in his handling of members of Congress so I only gave him a B+ for this style element. But because President Obama has previously demonstrated a knack for making the proper strategic adjustments and learning from his mistakes while he was a Presidential candidate, I believe he will do likewise when it comes to his future dealings with members of Congress.
President Obama began his first one hundred days in office by signing a string of executive orders which reversed many of the directives former President Bush had issued during his eight years in the White House. While these were important, the biggest single thing President Obama had to achieve during his first one hundred days was passage of an economic stimulus package to deal with the US economic recession. But the fact that President Obama’s stimulus package received no support from Republicans in the US House of Representatives and the support of only three moderate Republicans in the US Senate was not a reflection of some failure by President Obama to craft a bi-partisan solution to address America’s economic problems.
What remains of the Republican leadership in Congress is now firmly in the hands of its more conservative members who decided early on that it was in their best political interests to rail against the size of the federal budget deficit that would result from this stimulus package. Once these Republicans decided that they wanted to play partisan politics with Obama’s economic stimulus package there was never a chance that any House Republican would vote for it out of their fear that they would lose their seats on various House committees if they went against their Republican leaders positions.
Where I believe President Obama mishandled the economic stimulus package was in the manner he chose to deal with members of Congress from his own Democratic Party. President Obama made a rare strategic mis-step by allowing the Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives to craft this crucial piece of legislation without strong guidance from his White House legislative aides. The result was a House bill which included the kind of special appropriations which both political parties are famous for inserting to win support from others in Congress.
Since many of these special appropriations had nothing to do with reviving the US economy, their inclusion in President Obama’s economic stimulus package handed conservative Republicans in the House and Senate just the kind of ammunition they needed to attack this legislation and raise doubts about Democratic Party solutions. I will discuss how Obama recovered from this mistake next week.