What’s Left – Defining a Legacy: The First 100 Days

Anyone who merely glances at The New York Times around campus is instantly bombarded with everything Obama. The scrutiny is not uncommon — ever since the FDR administration, many have looked to the first 100 days of any president’s term as an indicator for future success. For Obama, the level of activity has been at heights arguably unseen since the Roosevelt days. While both men faced times of uncertainty, Obama’s no-suit-jackets-in-the-White-House attitude has proved to many that he is, and will be, the right man in the Oval Office.

Before one examines the current efforts of the new administration, I believe it is beneficial to show how our previous president’s first days were thematic of his next 2,822. Remember his plans for standardized education? In the past eight years, the proficiency of American students has continued to drop relative to many developed nations. How about his rejection of the Kyoto treaty? If small, poor, developing countries were not going to follow it, surely the world’s most influential power should not take the initiative to be a global climate-change leader. What about the spy plane that crashed over China? That was certainly a step in the “right” direction to hospitable international relations.

How will history judge our last president? Many might say that “only time will tell,” but is it more than simple coincidence that “Dubya” would later pass the No Child Left Behind Act, continue to drop the ball on global climate change (oil subsidies anyone?), and run an administration of neo-Conservatives under the Wolfowitz doctrine?

Obama’s first weeks will be scrutinized highly. Yet, if America sees the major issues of today as being the recession and the state of U.S. foreign affairs, Obama has been best on both fronts.

Regarding the economy, two of Bush’s most famous economic acts occurred at the beginning and end of his years in office. The first, his $1.6 trillion tax cut, loosened control and allowed more free rein to corporations. Examining the current financial crisis, it’s clear that the favoring of big business and the eradication of a source of tax-revenue has severely damaged the economy.

The second of his famous economic acts, the first bail-out plan, was a failure for its complete lack of coherence or strategy. The government simply threw money at the problem, with no reprimands for the recipients or punishments for misuse. One $500,000 AIG vacation later, Obama knows that these companies must become more responsible. Many opponents may grumble about Obama’s $500,000 pay cap, but the limit will only be imposed on those who want money, and the CEOs can collect their bonuses after the crisis is over. Moreover, the new bailout plan has been much more translucent in terms of purpose and regulations.

Regarding U.S. foreign affairs, one of Bush’s worst legacies will be his history in the Middle East. Obama has already shown much more prowess for Middle Eastern affairs than his predecessor ever had. The president performed a subtle, yet genius maneuver by conducting his first formal interview as U.S. President on the al-Araybiya network, calling out to the Muslim world for a new era of understanding. Bush had spoken of crusades.

Additionally, Bush labeled Iran as an “Axis of Evil.” Obama has called for better relations, for an unclenching of the hateful fist that has been closed ever more tightly by the policies of the Bush administration. Reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami has recently announced his intentions to run against Ahmadinejad. His victory, with Obama’s actions, could usher in a new era of peace.

Moreover, Obama has already begun to change the role of the U.S. in Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Last semester, Aaron Ross informed a Colgate audience that the U.S. needs to ease itself away from its role as “Israel’s lawyer” in the peace talks. Recent U.S. aid of $20 million to Palestine’s struggling poor speaks well for a changing U.S. role.

It is clear that the events surrounding both Bush’s and Obama’s first days were very different. One presided over a time of budget surplus, the other under a crisis of financial ruin. Eight years ago, America’s power was seen as untouchable. Now, many wonder what the nation’s new international role will be. In these difficult situations, now is not the moment to reminisce over easier times, and President Obama continues to prove himself worthy of holding the reins to our country. Critics may not be kind to our previous president, but within their historical analyses remains one fundamental truth: a president only gets his 100 days once.