WASHINGTON: As Barack Obama's new administration turns 100-days old on Wednesday, the economy will determine whether the first US black president achieves what few US presidents have: a far-reaching change in American politics that might even earn its own title and legacy.
Will there be an Obama version of the New Deal, the Great Society or the Reagan Revolution?
Afghanistan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and other foreign hot spots certainly will test Obama. But the deeply troubled economy is his signature challenge and the focus of his greatest efforts, attention and gambles in his first 100 days in office.
Of course 100 days is just the start, too little time to determine the results (let alone the wisdom) of his decisions. But it's enough time to discern the path Obama has chosen, the overarching philosophy that will shape his administration and history's eventual judgment of it.
In a way, Obama, a Democrat, is reversing the famous dictum of former Republican president Ronald Reagan, who said government is the problem, not the solution.
Confronting the worst economic crisis in more than a half-century, Obama is dramatically increasing the government's role in overseeing banks, helping homeowners avoid foreclosure and even determining who runs General Motors Corp or merges with Chrysler LLP. Pouring billions of dollars into the efforts, he is stoking a huge federal deficit that could haunt him, and the nation, if it does not recede sharply in the next few years.
Obama's domestic agenda would be huge even if he focused only on reviving the moribund economy and addressing the recession's causes, including loosely regulated lending and a collapsed housing market. But he has gone much further, calculating that a crisis creates the best environment for ramming big changes through Congress.
He's proposing a vast extension of health insurance, increased federal spending on education and energy and a strategy for reducing greenhouse gases by slapping a high price on their production.
Obama rejects claims by some lawmakers that he is trying to do too much at once.
"I'd love if these problems were coming at us one at a time instead of five or six at a time," he said recently. "It's more than most Congresses and most presidents have to deal with in a lifetime," he said, but it's time to tackle them.
60% approval rating
Obama is enjoying a job approval rating of more than 60 percent and has thrived in the limelight of a 24/7 news cycle.
Many Americans have been riveted by all things Obama - from his new Portuguese water dog, to how often he goes out to dinner, to the planting of a vegetable garden on the White House lawn by his wife, Michelle, whose common-sense style of dress has been dissected and approved by fashion experts.
"His placid demeanor helped soothe the country as he took its reins in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression," wrote Howard Fineman of Newsweek magazine.
Obama's economic agenda has many other facets, and early assessments of them tend to run from fairly favorable to too-soon-to-tell.
The $787 billion stimulus bill drew negligible Republican support in Congress and has yet to play out. In the AP-GfK poll, 57 percent of those questioned said it's too early to say if the stimulus has helped the economy.
Obama's effort to revamp the health care system is stirring strong debate, and Congress' eventual response is unclear.
Particularly contentious are his ideas for a public health insurance program to compete with private plans, and a funding mechanism that would reduce tax benefits for rich people making charitable donations.
Even less clear is how Obama will achieve his goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For now, Obama is not backing away from this all-at-once strategy, even though Congress may choke on the heaped-high plate.
"If we don't invest now in renewable energy, if we don't invest now in a skilled work force, if we don't invest now in a more affordable health care system, this economy simply won't grow at the pace it needs to in two or five or 10 years down the road," Obama said at Georgetown.
Over the coming months and years, countless interest groups will issue report cards on his plan. In the first 100 days, William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar and former Clinton administration official, sums it up like this: "Stimulus package, check. Housing and mortgage rescue, too early to say. Rescue of financial institutions, probably not bold enough yet. Regulatory reform, the discussion has begun."
In Galston's view, "that's not a bad start."
AP - Reuters