Now that we are 100 days into the new era of hope and change, NRO asked friends and contributors to evaluate the president’s performance. Joe Biden did promise that Barack Obama would be tested early in his presidency — how has he done so far?
What strikes me most about Obama’s first 100 days is the lack of ideas fueling today’s liberals. So far, Obama’s foreign-policy changes don’t seem driven by new thinking that’s particularly innovative or sophisticated. They seem driven more by the simplistic critique that if U.S. policy is too muscular, other people will dislike us. That’s too crude to guide American conduct in a complex world. And it can lead to policies like imposing a deadline for shutting down Gitmo when the administration doesn’t have a plan for addressing the underlying problem that Gitmo was designed to solve.
Even more important, Democratic domestic policy so far doesn’t seem to be built on serious new ideas, either. The stimulus bill was massive, but crude even by Keynes’s standards. It’s not informed by sophisticated thinking; it’s special-interest pork-barrellism at its crudest. And calls for a new social compact sound more like the New Deal warmed over.
In other words, the party of America’s intellectuals, led by the egghead-in-chief, is governing without a vision. As a result, Obama’s liberalism has challenged conservatives electorally and organizationally, but hasn’t really threatened them on the terrain of ideas.
This creates a big opportunity for conservatives to start rebuilding their majority on grounds where, despite all odds, they often excel.
– Gerard Alexander is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
JAMES C. CAPRETTA
A series of decisions by President Obama during his first 100 days indicates his plan is to govern from the left — at least for now.
He pushed the so-called stimulus bill through Congress on a largely partisan basis. His first budget submission is an unapologetic call for an activist domestic government — across the board. And he is working with Democratic leaders in Congress to pave the way for a health-care bill that can pass without any need to negotiate with congressional Republicans.
Perhaps the president and his political advisers have calculated that this governing game-plan gives them the best opportunity to secure their agenda while still leaving time to “move to the center” before a re-election effort gears up in earnest.
That may be, and it may work. But there are real risks, too.
It’s one thing to rely on just your partisan allies when the votes are easy, like more government funding for an array of programs in a “stimulus” bill. But it’s quite another when a president must ask his party colleagues to take tough stands knowing full well that it could expose them in the next election.
In the first 100 days of his administration, the president has been able to get by without asking for sacrifices from anyone. The targets have been the usual suspects for liberal Democrats: higher income households, insurers, drug companies, and banks.
But that’s not likely to last for long.
The test will come when Democrats are forced, by events and economic reality, to vote on measures that would impose costs on a broader cross-section of the electorate.
In health care, for instance, there are scores of minefields. A new mandate on employers to offer health insurance would reduce employment while the country remains in a deep recession. A requirement that citizens enroll in health insurance that is more expensive than their coverage today would feel like a tax increase to millions of people. Cuts in Medicare’s payment rates for optional private insurance would mean rolling back extra benefits for millions of enrollees.
Yes, the president and his allies have shown they can expand government over the opposition of Republicans. But can they impose discipline on their own too?
– James C. Capretta is fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former associate director at the Office of Management and Budget.