In a dizzying dash to the 100-day mark, Obama made a down payment on the changes he'd promised and delivered a trillion-dollar wallop to wake up the moribund economy. He put the country on track to end one war, reorient another and redefine what it means to be a superpower. All this with a cool confidence that has made increasing numbers of Americans hopeful that the country may at last be heading in the right direction. But not everyone's impressed. For all that went right with the president's liftoff, Obama's opening moves have fallen short in the eyes of many, and have left others wondering where it all will lead.
Republicans largely stiffed the president on his call for bipartisanship and cast him as a weak leader on the world stage. Liberals groused that he could have done more and wondered whether he's too prone to compromise. Deficit hawks worried that he's blown a gaping a hole in the budget.
Obama himself seems energized. "The decision-making part of it," he said, "actually comes pretty naturally." As for the critics, Obama said, Washington is "a little bit like 'American Idol' - but everybody is Simon Cowell."
Almost overlooked in all the hoopla is the historic nature of Obama's tenure as the first black president. There's been little time to even think about that issue, which commanded so much attention during the campaign, as Obama has grappled with a seizing economy and has rushed pell-mell to reverse the legacy of eight years of Republican rule.
"You'd be hard put to find another president facing those kinds of challenges who has acted as intelligently and aggressively to meet the challenges head on," said presidential historian Andrew Polsky, a professor at Hunter College in New York. "He hasn't pushed things to the back burner. Of course, whether any of this works is another question, and it's too soon to know that."
Economy, Gitmo and wars
While there have been hints the recession may be easing, Obama still needs to stabilize the shaky banking system and get credit flowing again. The clock is ticking on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center within a year, and each detainee poses his own set of problems. Obama's ability to wind down U.S. operations in Iraq and reshape efforts in Afghanistan hinges in large part on factors beyond his control. For all his focus on the economy, Obama also devoted considerable effort to repairing the nation's tarnished image abroad. His sat down for his first formal TV interview with an Arabic-language station, telling Muslims that "Americans are not your enemy." In Europe, he said America in the past had "shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." He carried the same message to Latin America, entertaining overtures from isolated Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
Having inherited two wars and an economy in crisis, Obama talks often about the high stakes for the nation in getting things right. Only rarely does he allude to the stakes for him personally. "I will be held accountable," he said a few weeks into his presidency. "You know, I've got four years. If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition."