Obama hedges his bets on optimism

Marketplace Staff Apr 29, 2009
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Obama hedges his bets on optimism

Marketplace Staff Apr 29, 2009
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Kai Ryssdal: You could say it’s been a bit more than three months. You could say 14 weeks or so. But somehow 100 days has become the convention. The president has been in office that long today. And commentator David Frum points out there’s still a long way to go.


DAVID FRUM: The original “100 days” ended with Waterloo, so it’s a low bar to do better than that.

In his first 100 days, President Obama has done a great deal to restore public optimism and confidence at home. Half of Americans now say the country is on the “right track,” the best number since the liberation of Baghdad in April 2003.

Optimism matters. But it’s not very tangible, nor is it likely to be very enduring in the absence of more solid achievements. And here President Obama’s record is more troubling.

The restoration of confidence may remind some of Ronald Reagan’s morning in America. But except for a blip after John Hinckley’s assassination attempt, Ronald Reagan’s job approval numbers only exceeded 60 percent after his policies had gone into effect and delivered results in 1984, 1985 and 1986. With President Obama at 69 percent, it seems to be reward first, achievement later — if ever.

The United States is wracked by the worst financial crisis in decades. Experts estimate the bad debt in the economy at anywhere from $1.5 to $3.5 trillion.

President Obama’s economic plans are all based on the assumption that the correct figure is at the low end of that range. That’s the assumption that lies behind every one of his key economic decisions, from the $800 billion in stimulus to his plans to proceed fast with a big new health-care program and cap-and-trade for carbon emissions.

If the president is right, then the United States can probably afford his policies — just.

If he’s low-balled it, then the United States will find itself, a year or two from now, seeking to borrow another trillion on top of debt levels that have already hit peacetime highs. The most important of his decisions are already locked in, and the others are minutes away.

President Obama promised dramatic change. But in one way, he follows so many of his recent predecessors: on the eve of day 100, he has gambled his presidency on his affair with that always popular Washington belle: rosy scenario.

RYSSDAL David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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