April 17, 2009

Real Test of Obama Begins Now

After the American Century

President Obama has now been in office for three months or so, and his first hundred days will be over soon. While he clearly has had some successes and remains far more popular with the voters than George W. Bush was last year, this is still a period of transition. The massive deficit spending is only beginning to have an effect on the economy, which has continued to weaken overall, measured in terms of rising unemployment, the drop in housing starts, and declining real estate prices. GM and Chrysler remain on the brink of collapse, and banks are still struggling. These are not problems the Democrats created, but the weak economy does distract from attempts at larger reforms. Obama knows this and has kept calling for an overhaul of health care, energy policy, pollution control, education, and defense procurement. In all of these crucial areas, the new administration has not yet achieved very much, precisely because of the financial mess that had to be cleaned up first.

The question now is whether his own party will keep itself disciplined and rise to the occasion. In 1933 FDR's Democratic Party made fundamental changes. We have not seen a 100 days to match his achievements. Arguably, the crisis is not (yet?) as dire, but it is serious and the Democrats need to stick together. Obama has been abroad more than any other president at this point in his administration, and he has shown once again that he is exceedingly popular overseas, whether Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, France, Turkey or Mexico. This is a good thing, but it may not translate into legislative achievement at home. Arguably, he should stay in Washington most of the time for a good while, and let Secretary of State Clinton do the globe trotting for a while. The real test of whether Obama can deliver his program has begun.