I was astounded to hear CNN “talking heads” announce that they are inviting me (and their other viewers) to “grade” President Obama’s first hundred days in office. The absurdity of the suggestion left me speechless – at first (I don’t stay speechless for long). Now, I have found my voice. I want to rage at CNN, to point out the impertinence of their idea, the cheap, insulting gimmickry of it. But instead I am writing a blog. And I will try to be calm.
Those CNN folks do not know me, so they probably do not realize how ill equipped I feel to “grade” the performance of the President in these baffling times. What would I have done in his place? I certainly would not have had his energy, his patience, his indefatigable commitment. And I would not have been as amiable and courteous in the face of the barrage of criticism that has met his every move. By now, I would most likely be hiding under the covers, in that “undisclosed location” Dick Cheney liked so much.
How about you? What would you have done about the economic disaster Bush left behind? Think about it. Conflicting theories abound – spend more, spend less, don’t spend at all; tax more, tax less, don’t tax at all; lower the interest rate, raise the interest rate, leave the interest rate alone; bail out the banks, let the banks fail; help the auto industry, let the auto makers go bankrupt…and on, and on… And there is no way to tell what – if anything – will work. It is possible nothing will work, but if you were the President, you might feel obligated to do something. Or would you?
What about the crazy Bush wars? Do you fight on forever in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you invade Pakistan? And Iran? And North Korea? And if that’s your plan, where do you find the resources for such an expensive proposition? How about more tax cuts for the rich? Do you think that would generate the revenue you would need? (No kidding – some people do!) Or would you rely on multi-trillion-dollar deficits for our children, grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren to inherit? You wouldn’t dare raise taxes! Those “teabagging” maniacs would come after you with their assault rifles.
Perhaps you would be an “appeaser” – shaking hands (and smiling!) with the likes of Hugo Chavez and “bowing” to the King of the Saudis, inviting the Iranians and North Koreans to talk things over before coming to blows, listening to the leaders of other countries as if their opinions matter. Either way, you would attract a firestorm of rebuke from one side or another.
Unfazed by these dizzying choices, President Obama has forged ahead, trying not only to sort out the short-term mess, but also to create a better country in the long term. According to Time Magazine’s Joe Klein, the new President has embarked on “a radical change of course not just from his predecessor, not just from the 30-year Reagan era but also from the quick-fix, sugar-rush, attention-deficit society of the postmodern age.” He observed that Obama is seeking to fashion a society built (as Jesus advised) on rock, not on sand, a society that will endure.
Is Obama a sucker for punishment or what? Doesn’t he know the American society is addicted to the “quick fix” and the “sugar rush”? Just watch CNN. Or MSNBC. Or whatever (not Fox News, though – not if you value your sanity). As Klein observed, a recent speech in which the President described his vision for the future drew scant media coverage. Instead:
Quickly, public attention turned to new “tempests of the moment” – an obscene amount of attention was paid to the new Obama family dog and then, more appropriately, to the Bush Administration’s torture policy and the probably futile attempt to prosecute those who authorized the practices. And then to a handshake and a smile that the President bestowed on the Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chávez. These are the soap bubbles of our public life. They have become the hasty, capricious, bite-size way that we experience the world. It has made for slovenly, sandy citizenship.
So I’ll leave it to the pundits at CNN and their other viewers to “grade” the President. I’ll settle for Klein’s summary:
The most important thing we now know about Barack Obama, after nearly 100 days in office, is that he means to confront that way of life directly and profoundly, to exchange sand for rock if he can. Whether you agree with him or not – whether you think he is too ambitious or just plain wrong – his is as serious and challenging a presidency as we have had in quite some time.