Not a Mixed Verdict

By Dan Froomkin
2:20 PM ET, 04/27/2009

Opinion polls being released as we get closer to President Obama's 100th day in office suggest the public neither shares his critics' negative view of his tenure -- nor the balanced view that pundits tend to take on occasions like this. Indeed, the public isn't taking a balanced view at all.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Obama's approval rating at 69 percent. Despite the extraordinarily high hopes that accompanied his inauguration, 54 percent say he is doing a better job than they expected. Almost two out of three say he has accomplished a great deal or a good amount. Over 70 percent say he is a strong leader, is honest and trustworthy, can be trusted in a crisis, and understands the problems of "people like you." Fully 90 percent credit him with being willing to listen to different points of view.

(For yet more, see my Thursday post.)

So the most compelling caveat pundits may have in their 100-day assessments is that it's early days still.

Jonathan Alter writes for Newsweek: "With the help of the economic crisis, Barack Obama has put more points on the board than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, and his public investment greatly exceeds Roosevelt's in constant dollars. The only president he falls short of is Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Even if you think he's wrong, Obama deserves high marks for articulating a new vision and getting Congress to act. But he still gets an 'incomplete' for the term. That's because his ethos is to do 'what works.' Problem is, we don't know yet what will."

The 100-day mark is, however, a good excuse to remind ourselves of just how much has changed.

David Jackson writes for USA Today: "In his first 100 days in office, President Obama has not hesitated to chart a different course than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

"Bush focused on the Iraq war; Obama has placed more of an emphasis on Afghanistan. Obama wants the government to have a role in reshaping the nation's health care system; Bush preferred to take smaller steps so individuals could buy private health insurance.

"Then there's personal style; the cool, African-American lawyer from Chicago, and the back-slapping white rancher from Texas.

"'It's Mars and Venus,' says Thomas Mann, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. 'It's hard to find a more different contrast between the presidents.'...

"Obama supporters such as Democratic political consultant Mark Mellman note the new president is merely responding to conditions that were inherited from Bush. 'Obama is solving the problems,' Mellman says. 'That's a pretty big difference.'"

Steve Holland writes for Reuters: "Far more than anything else, President Barack Obama's first 100 days have been marked by an ideological shift to traditional Democratic policies in tackling the U.S. recession....

"[H]e has set the United States on a path toward reversing eight years of the Bush administration's conservative policies."

Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek that "so far, any president would be envious of Obama's accomplishments.

"The real question is, why has Obama been so successful? Many commentators have focused on his calm leadership style, his deliberative methods and his tight teamwork. That's all true, but there is a larger explanation for the success so far. Obama has read the country and the political moment correctly. He understands that America in 2009 is in a very different place now. Polls say the country is more liberal than it was two decades ago."

The Atlantic is one of several publications featuring special reports on the First 100 Days.

Andrew Sullivan writes there: "My sense is that this is a subtle and auspicious start. He has built trust; he has restored a tone of responsibility; he has shown a new American face to the world; he has ended the torture program; although it may not be enough, he has done the minimum necessary to prevent a truly epochal depression; he has put science before ideology; and he has demonstrated outreach to his opponents. And he has done it with a real degree of grace and eloquence and sincerity that have rendered him more personally popular today than ever before.

"We have an adult in charge. And we have civil public reasoning back in a persuasive president. Even with the fetid and somewhat desperate attempts of the far right to bring him down so soon, he dominates the stage right now. Because Obama's game is always a long one, a hundred days seems too soon to judge. But the ground has been laid. For what? We'll find out."

David Saltonstall compiles a list for the New York Daily News of the "100 events that helped shape President Obama's first 100 days." Among them: "1. First African-American President" and "87. White House Easter eggs contain 31% less paperboard this year."

The New York Post, aided by Joe Scarborough, Glenn Beck and others, weighs in with a list of Obama's 100 mistakes in 100 days.

The Los Angeles Times asked commuters what they expected from the new president before the inauguration -- then went back and asked them how they feel now.

It's certainly been quite a wild ride. And for a lot of people, it's been full of personal meaning. So over in my White House Watchers discussion group, I'm asking: What were your personal best and worst moments of his presidency so far? No polemics, please, just stuff from the heart.

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