Is Obama doing too much?

And has he already lost sight of the most important priority—the economy?

With announcements coming nearly every second day, with the delivery of landmark speeches before the nation and the Congress, with a major stimulus package and a recently-introduced budget that includes record spending and record deficits, it is becoming fashionable for pundits to wonder whether Barack Obama lacks the proper focus and sense of priority that America needs right now. They worry Obama is doing too much and will fail on the one issue that will effect his entire political agenda—the economy. Warren Buffett, for instance, has complained about muddled messages coming from the government, while former General Electric boss Jack Welch argues that Obama is not focusing enough on the economy. The unemployment rate is now over 8 % and rising, the Dow Jones is hovering around 6000 points, and GDP growth is in negative-five per cent territory. Making matters worse, there is little evidence that the market is responding to the stimulus package passed by Congress. The additional TARP money, the mortgage bailouts and the proposed reforms to the banking system have not had the impact necessary to begin restoring confidence.

And yet, despite this sombre picture, Obama has held his own in the polls. His approval ratings are consistently around 60 per cent and people have a favourable long-term outlook for the Obama administration. While honeymoons are normal within the first 100 days for new presidents, very few have taken office with so many things going wrong. The economy is tanking badly, the situation in Iraq remains volatile, and the insurgency in Afghanistan is making gains. Domestic issues like health care, energy and education remain as critical and crucial as they were during the campaign. Though it’s unclear whether Obama can maintain his popularity, it is becoming obvious that he has decided to define his presidency within the first 100 days and is willing to take the necessary risks.

All of us who followed the Obama campaign—I was involved in volunteer activities in three states—know that he is an ambitious politician. Obama is a confident individual ready to take on challenges at times where prudence would have dictated otherwise: less than 4 years in the Senate and he was already running for president. But there is more to Obama than raw ambition. After all, the odds did not favor him in the last campaign. Clinton and the Republican attack machine were not easy adversaries. To some, he may have run a cautious campaign, assiduously calculating risks and never moving very far from the political center. However, when you read his books and consider his more notable speeches, all while listening carefully to his rhetoric, you see a politician on a mission and in a hurry. His messages are constant and consistent. His campaign team uses state of the art technology and always remind the followers that theirs is a movement. Since November 4, 2008, that same discourse is used repeatedly in communication messages.

I am not surprised about the energy and the passion of the first 100 days. Obama may be idealistic in his words, but when it comes to politics, it’s important to remember, he comes from Chicago, where pragmatism and realism are tools to reach goals. Obama is no different, and he brings civility to the process. He inherited two wars, a world where terrorism remains ever-present, an economic situation that is engulfing the world, and a country that had lost its moral advantage. To counter this, he wants to bring the wars to an end and secure the peace. He wants to transform much of the ills that have brought this economic downturn. Consumption, production and economic regulation will not be the same once the recession ends. Obama has also announced the closure of Gitmo, passed an executive order against torture, sent envoys to the trouble spots of the world, and rescinded the Bush policy on stem cell research. He wants to implement a universal healthcare program, to reduce his country’s dependence on unfriendly foreign sources for energy, to improve the quality of education and increase access to it, and to fight global warming and encourage a greener economy. It’s quite an agenda. But it is, after all, what he was elected to do.

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