Looking Inward After 100 Days

The media-driven "100 days" obsession assumes that we're passive actors in turning around the mess Obama has inherited.
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On last week's The McLaughlin Group, Pat Buchanan and I agreed onsomething: Give President Obama an "A" for his first 100 days. If weconcur, then there is such a thing as metaphysical certitude.

Now, let's quickly put aside the absurd, artificial construct of "100days" and ask a related, perhaps more important, question: What shouldyou and I get for grades?

I ask because the media-driven "100 days" obsession assumes that we'repassive actors in turning around the mess Obama, my friend DavidAxelrod, my Chicago neighbor Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner and the resthave inherited. It assumes that we will wait and see what these folkswill all do for us.

It's a point made in "Barack Obama and the Politics of Expectation," apiece by Benjamin Ramm, editor of a small London magazine, TheLiberal, which you won't find at the grocery checkout counter with US,People and the rest. Save yourself the trip overseas and just trywww.theliberal.co.uk.

If you recall the cold day in Springfield, Illinois, when the longshotObama intrepidly declared his candidacy and willingness to take on theHMS Hillary, he declared, "Too many times, after the election is over,and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory,and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turnaway, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own."

"That is why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be aboutus -- it must be about what we can do together."

The same is probably now true when it comes to the act of governingand extracting ourselves from a myriad of messes. I'm not sure it'senough to just wait and see how all goes, crossing our fingers, hopinga home won't be foreclosed on, a new job will be found, a credit cardbill can be paid.

I'm not sure it's enough to wait until Obama, Axelrod, Emanuel & Co.figure out the right way to spend billions on reviving the financialindustry, improving schools, reforming the health care system,diminishing our dependence on oil and oil, and magically getting somany of us back to work.

Indeed, in ways those guys probably don't even fully appreciate, thetask ahead is hellaciously difficult.

I've just spent several days hanging with bankers from all over theworld. They're very smart guys and gals, who've now been demonized asbeing at the heart of our current troubles. In the current Timemagazine, several Obama officials take harsh shots at them, thoughnone have the courage to be identified. Make no mistake, the one'sI've been talking and drinking with are pretty contrite and quick toconcede involvement in an age of excess; one of insufficient duediligence in lending too much money to too many people. And the guysfrom China, Germany and England were in the same boat.

But they also know that what faces the Obama administration, andgovernments worldwide, is truly complex. Several top executivesindicated that they've been beckoned to serve as de facto counsel andteachers for Treasury officials. In some cases, many of their bestpeople have been urged by the government to come aboard fulltimebecause the officials are desperate for bodies and a bit over theirheads at the moment.

I listened to several experts explain to a room of sophisticatedfinancial people the challenges in placing values on all those "toxicassets." Nobody in the room came away with any confidence that thiswill turn out well, or how much revenue might actually be generated.And they know this subject like I know the '61 Yankees.

Confronting a 10-foot putt to win or lose 20 bucks from a buddy may bepressure to some of us. But what the Obama administration faces istrue pressure, including the prospect of unintended consequences. Yes,yes, there are several key figures, like Federal Reserve Chairman BenBernanke, who are students of past crises. But, as one top bankingofficial said, just because he and others know the origins of previousdebacles doesn't mean they know the solution to this one.

And then there are all of us.

What should we be doing? Is it enough to go to work, or look for work,then hit the couch for 24, American Idol, or maybe one of thecable television yellfests considering born-again Democrat ArlenSpecter, then just hope our elected leaders take us to safe harbor, ifnot necessarily any promised land?

The business of grading Obama's first 100 days is intertwined with thesubsequent questions about whether he'll succeed, fail or let us down.But nobody ever asks what we, as citizens, should be doing; about howwe can somehow help in our communities, maybe even in Washington, ourstate capitals, the nearest City Hall, in the process exploiting ourpassion, intelligence and craving for better times.

I know nothing about derivatives, new technologies to supplant oil orcoal, or how to help ghetto kids not fall perilously behindacademically before they ever step into a classroom.

But I also suspect that I'm making a mistake waiting for Obama tofigure it all out. Somewhere in these next 100, 200 or 1,000 and moredays, we've got to exercise some responsibility and help.

Then maybe we can look in a mirror and get, rather than give, report cards.

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