The “Do” President or The “Dangerous” President?

What the First 100 Days Reveal

No laundry list here. And no New York Post criticisms, either. But, the First 100 days have revealed signs of future strength or weakness and the tone of this Presidency. I put those signs in three categories, Presidential direction, Presidential management and Presidential character.

President Obama has demonstrated a bias for action. It is one of two linking factors in all three categories. As Neil Oxman, veteran Democratic political advisor with the Campaign Group, tells me, "He's (President Obama) just a very proactive guy." Oxman believes that while Obama will act on many issues on many fronts, in the end, it is the economy ("he clearly owns that problem now") and the foreign asymmetrical confrontations in Afghanistan and Iraq that will determine the value of his Presidency. Neil Oxman says the "20 or 30 people" in the White House running this administration believe we are in a time similar to 1932 and that "their playbook is Franklin Roosevelt." Oxman adds, "They believe they have got to try to do it all and they are not afraid of failure."

The other linking factor is that this is the macro Presidency. The President's trips abroad and selection of tools to sow a better future are evidence of a belief that the problems which threaten the long-term survivability of the nation and the planet are so large, that government must play a coordinating, stimulating role. President Obama's ease at meeting world leaders with whom the U.S. has had significant disagreements, his willingness to reach out to them at the risk of rejection and his admissions of where the U.S. has made mistakes show a maturity usually respected in a person, but sometimes reviled in a President.

I was on a conference call today with regional reporters with Vice-President Joe Biden. The Vice-President says that the challenges facing the nation are "real and immediate" and that in the last 100 days, "a nondecision would have been a decision." The action has just begun. Biden says expect much more on health care as the year progresses.

Hand in hand with this belief of attacking problems in a big way is the decisiveness to act on these initiatives and risk the chance that the nation cannot outgrow its debt or that the action was misplaced or mistimed.

Presidential management and character. The President showed crisp decision-making in giving the green light to the military, and not White House micro-managing, in the rescue of Maersk Alabama skipper Richard Phillips from Somali pirates. Decisiveness, and perhaps Presidential character were shown when early on he made clear to Republican leaders, "I won." Republicans do not see this as positive. They also do not see his "bipartisanship" as genuine. But complaining in these matters right now sounds like whining. However, one lesson from the George W. Bush Presidency is that when it appears a President does not honestly listen, then when things go wrong, that Presidency loses standing with the people.

There have been some managerial missteps. Despite press conferences and town halls and You Tube appearances, there was the misinformation given the President about the head of Caterpillar's intentions if he got federal aid, to the internal vetting regarding tax problems of potential appointees, to the ridiculous unannounced and expensive flyover of Air Force One scaring lower Manhattan residents and workers. The President's "Special Olympics" comment during his appearance on Jay Leno and his at times jovial conversation about the economy with "60 Minutes" were also stumbles. The President presented an image he either had to apologize for or make sure was not repeated. However, the truth is that for now these types of missteps are distractions and nothing more. They feed the media beast, and will mostly be forgotten, unless big things go wrong in the economy or national security. Then, they would become kindling.

The President's instant backing of Arlen Specter for re-election as a Democrat also reveals another Presidential trait, pragmatism. The primary is still a year or so away, but the President's quick decision to support the man who was a Republican, at least in name, when the week began, shows a practical President wanting party peace and potentially 60 Senate votes (most of the time.) An aside, I spoke with Pennsylvania State Representative Josh Shapiro, who has withdrawn from considering a run for Senate now that Arlen Specter has become a Democrat. He agrees that the President has shown a sense of pragmatism. As for his decision not to seek Specter's office, a disappointed but patient Shapiro tells me, that he was " emotionally and fundamentally invested" in the race for Senate, but with Arlen Specter now a Democrat, he, Shapiro, "recognized for the good of the party we needed to unify quickly.

Other Obama supporters and even some detractors add that what also will be a factor going forward is how Americans want to assess this Presidency. There are unsettling signs, not of disagreement, but of hate.

So as the Presidency enters a new media phase and operates on legs with some experience, we see an Administration with big action and big plans to come.  The economy will likely be the barometer of his success, but, it is also likely that some event, somewhere, will go wrong.  How America responds depends on the consistency of President Obama's character, management and decisiveness.  For many times, it's not what a President started out doing, but what he did when the unexpected happened that have defined him. The sudden appearance of the swine flu, or H1D1, is at least a warning of that. Your retirement account statements and anniversaries of 9-11 should be, too.

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