On domestic policy, Obama has shown himself to be both extremely liberal and extremely cautious. As my friend Reihan Salam writes today:
“There may well be good reasons for Obama’s itchy intervention finger, but there’s a real danger that we’ll be left with zombie banks, zombie industries, and a zombie economy that limps along, bleeding jobs and growth for years. Think of this as removing a Band-Aid really, really, really slowly.”
In terms of the politics, Obama has rather fallen between two stools. If he was going to try and do everything at once, as he has, he needed to present himself as a transformative figure rather than expectations managing in his inaugural address. He also needed to do a better job in managing House Democrats, whose antics and ideological posing gave Republicans the cover they needed not to support the stimulus. Indeed, Obama has singularly failed to bring bipartisanship to Washington.
Foreign policy is a mixed bag. I’m glad Obama has hewn a sensible line on Iraq. But the real test there will come if the troops need to stay longer than currently planned. On Afghanistan and Pakistan, the strategy might be the best that can be done in the circumstances. But I’m sceptical about its prospects. I also worry that despite the Obama administration acknowledging what a problem Pakistan is, it still has no plan for dealing with it. Iran is another issue when the administration doesn’t appear to be across it or to have grasped the urgency of it. Yes, there needs to be engagement with the Iranians to find out if anything can persuade them to give up their nuclear ambitions. But that needs to be done quickly, there isn’t long left on the clock. If nothing will persuade the Iranian leadership to give up on its nuclear programme—as will almost certainly be the case—Obama then has to make the call. There is one thing worse than bombing Iran, a nuclear Iran.
Overall, I’d give Obama a 6 and a half out of ten. The best news for his supporters, though, is that the Republicans show little sign of getting their act together. As Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s presidential campaign , said recently, “in the first 100 days, [the GOP] has not done anything to improve its political position with regards to the fact that it has been a shrinking entity”. As long as the Republicans are so divided and so unwilling to think about what they have to do differently to win in 21st century America, then Obama can remain confident about his re-election prospects at least.