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Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Thursday, May 7, 2009, 00:41 By Charles Laffiteau

Since President Obama has reached the 100-day mark since assuming office, I guess it’s time for me to give our new commander-in-chief his first report card.

As most of you are probably aware, I was a strong supporter of Obama in the run-up to the elections, so I can understand if you think my marks for him are a reflection of that support. But please keep in mind that I was also a supporter of former President George W Bush prior to the Iraq war. I didn’t hesitate to criticise him, and I won’t pause to call out President Obama whenever I believe he has taken the wrong course of action.
For his first one hundred days as US President, I give President Obama an A- for style and a B for substance. Giving equal weight to his style and substance, this makes for a B+ average. Good, but not great. While the substance of what a president accomplishes while they are in office counts much more than style they exhibit, the latter is extremely important during the beginning of their first term in office.
Style is important because members of Congress from both political parties, as well as many American voters, are looking for clues about how their new President plans to address the problems that both he and the country are confronting. Regardless of whether or not they voted for him, they want to feel that the President is in command of the situation. They are looking to their new President for reassurance that he is up to the task of handling the myriad foreign and domestic issues that confront him.
But while President Obama deserves an A grade for his style performance in this regard, I believe he stumbled a bit in his handling of Congress, taking it down to an A-. But since he has previously demonstrated a knack for learning from his mistakes while he was a Presidential candidate, I believe he will do likewise when it comes to his future dealings with Congressional members.
The biggest challenge of President Obama’s first 100 days was in securing passage of an economic stimulus package to deal with the US recession. But the fact that this package received no support from Republicans in the House of Representatives and the support of only three moderate Republicans in the Senate was not a reflection of some failure by Obama to craft a bipartisan solution.
What remains of the Republican leadership in Congress is now firmly in the hands of its more conservative members, who decided early on that it was in their best political interests to rail against the size of the deficit that would result from this stimulus package. Once these Republicans decided that they wanted to play partisan politics, there was never a chance that any House Republican would vote for it, fearful of losing their seats on various House committees. 
Where I believe President Obama mishandled the stimulus package was in the manner he chose to deal with members of Congress from his own Democratic Party. He made a rare strategic misstep by allowing Democratic leaders in the House to craft this crucial piece of legislation without strong guidance from his White House legislative aides. The result was a bill smothered with the kind of irrelevant special appropriations which both political parties are famous for tagging on to win support from others in Congress – just the kind of ammunition Republicans needed to attack the legislation and raise doubts about the Democrats’ solutions.
Next week I’ll discuss how the President recovered from this mistake.

Charles Laffiteau is a lifelong US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is currently pursuing a PhD research programme in Environmental Studies at Dublin City University

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