It may have been off to a less-than-eloquent start, but the Obama administration has finally reached its first checkpoint. Wednesday, April 27, marked the hundredth day of Barack Obama’s presidency, a highly anticipated milestone in the new administration. If you haven’t noticed, the country’s headed in a new direction and it’s not looking back. Even Northwestern has felt Obama’s commitment to progressive values as Chemistry Professor, Chad Mirkin, was recently appointed to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Since the sweeping action of F.D.R.’s New Deal, the first hundred days have been considered an integral part of every presidency as it is the first legitimate opportunity to examine the new administration. Though many presidents, including Obama himself, have tried to downplay the importance of the occasion, public and media interest in the event is undeniable. Here’s a look at what Obama has accomplished thus far:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more affectionately known as the stimulus bill, was a major step taken by Obama to confront the worst economic depression in 70 years. Signed into law on Feb. 17, the stimulus package pumps $787 billion into the nation’s struggling economy to increase unemployment benefits and tax relief while also increasing spending on health care, education and the general infrastructure. As is expected with legislation this big, not everyone was happy. The bill was met with harsh criticism by some for being passed by both the House and the Senate along party lines, in turn throwing away bipartisanship on a major bill. The stimulus package is promising, but its ambiguity regarding unemployment and consumer spending could lead to an increase in unemployment and future-generational debt, though Obama has promised to avoid both.
The federal bailouts of major industries were also signs of the recession as the government loaned intangible amounts of money to automobile companies and banks, most prominently to American International Group, Inc. (AIG). The AIG fiasco stemmed from a controversial provision that seemingly allowed bailout money to be used to finance corporate bonuses, a colossal waste of government money that angered many across the country, and rightly so. Controversy loomed over Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut, whose handling of the bill’s questionable amendments ultimately pointed to miscommunication between the White House and the Banking Committee. The Obama administration has clearly addressed its response to the recession, but not without debate as much concern regarding its ramifications lingers.
The national unemployment rate has risen from 7.6 % at the beginning of Obama’s term to 8.5% by the end of March. In Illinois, the rate has increased from 7.8% to 9.1%, clearly showing that the economy still has a long way to go. Equally as important, this shows that the stimulus package has not delivered immediate results, forcing Americans to wait for relief. For students, the economy strongly affects the status of student loans. Obama has pledged to end private lending and instead use the federal government as the primary financier in order to be freed from the mercy of the free market.
In late February, Obama announced the removal of all American combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, with the intention of leaving up to fifty thousand soldiers for non-combative support. Fifty thousand is a huge number that raised some eyebrows even in the Democratic Party. Reaffirming his commitment to safely ending the war, Obama asked Congress earlier this month for $83.4 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter of which needs to be more prioritized, according to the commander-in-chief. This desire was strengthened by deploying 4,000 military trainers to Afghanistan, with an additional 5,000 from NATO allies. Obama also announced, two days after taking office, the closing of Guantanamo Bay within a year. Acting for American interests in Cuba, Obama announced that Cuban-Americans can now make unlimited visits and money transfers between the two countries.
The Bush administration was deeply condemned by Obama for its reclusive approach to diplomacy. In early April, Obama traveled to Europe and the Middle East, participating in the G-20 economic summit in London and the NATO summit in Strasbourg. An important highlight of his first overseas visit was his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with whom he discussed a potential arms-control treaty. The importance of this meeting was heightened as Iran and North Korea have proved to be viable nuclear threats in the past few months. Though Obama has made a personal effort to transform the global perception of the United States, it will ultimately be up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to maintain a world image that supports the new administrative agenda.
It’s true that the new White House vegetable garden, the new playscape, the new basketball court and the new First Dog, Bo, are nice reminders that the Obamas are, in fact, cool. The media attention to such topics, however, has distracted from the President’s work in other important areas. Obama’s first bill signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for workers to sue employers for wage discrimination. In a particularly progressive protocol, Obama also reversed Bush bans on stem cell research and bans on federal funds that support groups providing information for or performing abortions. These acts are clear indicators of Obama’s relentless desire to instill politically liberal values as the bedrock of his presidency, undoubtedly met with criticism from across the aisle regarding the lack of bipartisanship.
Transparency and Technology
A departure from the Bush administration, Obama has used his Web team to take advantage of Internet technology and bolster communication and transparency. Starting at exactly 12 p.m. on Inauguration day, whitehouse.gov was re-launched under the Obama banner, providing a wholly new interface to users and a much more technologically up-to-date Web site. The new site is set up in an easily navigable blog format, conforming to the Internet trends of Web 2.0, the concept that centers on communication, information-sharing and user-based feedback. In many ways, this use of technology was one of the key aspects of Obama’s exceptional presidential campaign, something he has wisely transferred to his tenure in office. Another new government Web site is recovery.gov, a site that tracks the stimulus bill and its spending. Obama has also implemented the weekly YouTube address, replacing the radio addresses of the past. Despite efforts to use technology to create transparency in most government outlets, which was a major component to Obama’s campaign platform, his promise fails in the area of accountability of government wrong-doing, which is questionable at best. In general, however, the administration has maintained its promise to be open, especially in consideration of its contrast with the notoriously secretive Bush administration.
While it is clear that the new administration has not been an idle one, more attention is being paid to agenda-setting rather than actual policy implementation. Obama has led an ideological shift within the nation’s policies in an effort to remold the U.S.’s direction and image, much of which has contributed to his 69 percent approval rating as shown by a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News. Other polls have shown that Obama’s personality is more popular than his policies; 75 percent like him as a person, while only 57 percent actually like his policies. The new administration has made it clear that they are aggressively working towards strengthening the nation, thereby dispelling any suspicions of inactivity. As a result, many Americans have willingly provided a generous stock of patience, but such faith in the new administration is a heavy investment. Unfortunately, no timetable can predict when these investments will cash out. The first one hundred days have been exciting and action-packed, but only the first one thousand days can show just where the country is truly headed.
Full disclosure: Bentley Ferraina has contributed to North by Northwestern in the past.