Obama reflects on first 100 days, looks forward to progress

WASHINGTON – His first 100 days behind him, President Barack Obama expressed confidence about the next hundred and accelerated his drive toward contentious goals – sweeping health care overhaul, new rules to curb global warming and financial sector reform – even while working to end a recession and two wars. ‘I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made, but I’m not satisfied,’ Obama said yesterday in Arnold, Mo., the battleground state he chose to mark the milestone. By evening, he was to hold a news conference from the White House, the third of his presidency aired on prime-time television. Obama’s intensive schedule for the day demonstrated the degree to which the administration sees both possibility and peril in the symbolic 100-day marker. Presidential aides have derided it as a media-created ‘Hallmark holiday’ in which the White House participates reluctantly. But they also recognize it is a timeframe by which all modern presidents are judged, at least initially, and it can produce negative narratives that dog administrations for years. So the White House has jumped into the celebration with both feet, making high-level Obama advisers available anywhere they were needed over the last week and crafting the president’s day to maximum advantage. The opening act of the Obama presidency has been head-turning, not only for the dire times in which he took office but his flurry of activity. Determined to revive the dismal economy, his signature challenge, Obama has overseen a trillion-dollar infusion of federal spending and major interventions by Washington into the private sector, from directing executive pay to seizing huge governmental ownership shares in financial institutions and possibly General Motors. He put the country on track to end the Iraq war, while escalating the one in Afghanistan and revamping the strategy there. Nearly every day since Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration has brought a sweeping new promise to upend business-as-usual, veering from big issues to small and back. The reward: strong public backing despite a still-staggering economy. An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe the United States is headed in the right direction – the first time in years that more people than not expressed optimism for a brighter future. But most of what Obama has done so far, as would be expected for little more than three months, amounts to no more than a downpayment. The president stressed this theme during his speech and short question-and-answer session in a St. Louis suburb. ‘Our progress has to be measured in the results that we achieve over many months and years, not the minute-by-minute talk in the media,’ he told a friendly crowd at a local high school. ‘I’m not a miracle worker.’ For instance, he has begun redefining the U.S. image around the globe, a combination of his fresh look and diplomatic outreach. But those efforts will take time to bear fruit in the most difficult places, such as Iran, North Korea, Russia, Cuba and the Sudan. Obama also said he’ll close the controversial U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But he has yet to confront the tough decisions about where to send the most problematic suspected terrorists being held there. Most notably, Obama insisted that the massive but short-term economic stimulus that has increased the federal deficit would be unwise without a commitment to belt-tightening and a long-term reshaping of the U.S. economy. So he has proposed an all-at-once agenda that includes increased education spending to produce a better-trained work force, greater support for renewable energy development, a high-priced system for companies to buy and sell rights to emit dangerous pollutants, a vast expansion of health insurance and new rules to rein in the riskiest Wall Street behavior. He has asked Congress to provide it all by the end of the year. ‘Some of the people in Washington have been surprised,’ Obama said. ‘They said, ‘Boy, he’s so ambitious. He’s been trying to do so much.’ … But there’s no mystery to what we’ve done. The priorities that we’ve acted upon were the things that we said we’d do during the campaign.’