Sunday, April 26, 2009

The First 100 Days

Note: The date of this posting is incorrectly reflected on the blog as I began writing on Sunday, but actually finished and posted this blog on Thursday (following the President's 100th day in office.)

The Grade Summary:
Presidential Effectiveness (my grade) -- B
Approval Rating (on a post-World War 2 curve) -- C
Promise Keeping ( -- B+

At noon today, President Barack Obama completed his first 100 days in office.

Today, I'm happy to preset my retrospective on the first 100 Days of President Barack Obama. We'll focus on my grades against his key objectives, the public's grades in terms of his approval ratings, independent ratings on his promise-keeping and a look forward and the ambitious objectives that the President has laid out for his first year in office.

My grades are tough, given the challenges the President faced on day 1. But, like I've often said, we don't grade on a curve. He applied for the job and it is what it is.

Presidential Effectiveness
Here are my grades on the key areas that I discussed for President Obama upon taking office.

(1) His Cabinet -- C+
Kathleen Sebelius FINALLY took office this week after Senate confirmation, finally filling the Obama cabinet. His other (eventual) picks are now seated, but it wasn't without some blood. Tom Daschle withdrew from the HHS position after a tax scandal. Bill Richardson withdrew from Commerce after a pay-for-play scandal. Judd Gregg, Obama's second choice at Commerce, withdrew over ideological differences with the President. Nancy Killefer withdrew from the Chief Performance Officer role, possibly also over tax issues. Tim Geithner faced a bruising confirmation fight over back taxes. Eric Holder faced a rough fight over his actions relating to pardons in the Clinton administration. Hilda Solis faced a tough fight over labor policy.

In total, Obama's cabinet faced more bumps in the road than any modern President.

But there were some very bright spots -- retaining Robert Gates at Defense, Hillary Clinton at State, Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, Arne Duncan at Education, Steven Chu at Energy, Shaun Donovan at Housing and Urban Development, Ray Lahood at Transporation, Ken Salazar at Interior, Tom Vilsack at Agriculture and Eric Shinseki at Veterans Affairs, as well as Obama's third choice for Commerce, Gary Locke.

In total, President Obama's cabinet is the most diverse in history anyway you cut it, with people from all ethnicities, genders, political affiliations and backgrounds. Let's not lose site of this.

But on our grade, he definitely gets dinged some for the drop outs, the continued vacancy and the tough fights along the way.

(2) Economic Stimulus -- A- Probably the most significant legislative accomplishment in the first 100 days of a President ever, the President on Feburary 17th signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion stimulus package, by far the largest ever enacted, including $499 billion in spending and $288 billion in tax cuts.

Like it or hate it, this is a massive legislative accomplishment for the President. It's futue effectiveness is obviously a continued matter of great debate. But that score will show up when we do the President's scorecard for his first year. For now, he gets credit for getting the bill through.

President Obama loses some points for the lack of Republican support for the bill, he had stated a goal going in of winning 70-80 votes in the Senate, which would have required the votes of at least 12 Republicans in the Senate. As it was, he got 0 votes in the house and only 3 in the Senate from the GOP side of the aisle.

(3) Bank Recapitalization -- C+
Tim Geithner's first presentation to the press and public was an unmitigated disaster, as he had no real plan and no details and markets subsequentially crashed. His follow-up presentation several weeks later when he presented a plan to build a public/private equity fund for buying up bad assets was a huge hit, with stocks soaring more than they fell at his first presentation. The plans appear to be moving a little slowly and there are still risks with capitalization and lending undermining economic recovery, but well-run banks are reporting profits again, and several major banks have announced plans to pay back to the TARP money.

The President loses some points for Geithner's original disaster, the poor handling of the AIG bonus scandal and the slow pace with which a cohesive plan has moved. In all, it's been a mediocre performance, but certainly superior to the administration that preceeded it.

(4) Auto Industry -- C-
We still don't have a real plan for the U.S. auto industry, not really. Ford is probably okay on its own, having taken no federal money and appearing to have sufficient cash to continue to operate until the economy turns around. Chrysler and GM may both be headed to bankruptcy. Chrysler may work out a deal with Fiat, but it is increasingly likely that will happen under Chapter 11, not through normal business channels. I see no way that GM can get to a plan that gets them back to profitability without massive public investment.

These issues were probably inevitable, but I sure wish we had got there without massive public investment into a black hole, which was started by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration.

(5) Everything Else -- A+
President Obama has had an extremely impressive first 100 days from an activity perspective. In addition to the stimulus package, the President has signed 6 other pieces of legislation into law, including the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a major piece of gender-discrimination legislation, an expansion to the Children's Health Insurance Program that will grow the program from approximately 7 million children to 11 and the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, which creates a step change in the management of our parks and public lands. He had a few duds, like the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for the rest of this fiscal year, which was loaded with earmarks (I noticed it was conspicuously absent from the list of signed bills on, but the legislative accomplishments alone are impressive.

Layer on top of this the 10 Executive Orders that the President has signed, which have included reversals of Bush administration policy on stem cell research, elimination of the so-called "Mexico City Policy" that had restricted distribution of birth control as part of foreign aid, orders creating greater transparency and freezing cabinet pay and a revamping of the faith-based charity programs, and President Obama has had an impressive first 100 days in terms of substantive legal changes.

Additionally, consider the movement of America's standing in the world, given the impressive performance turned in at the G20 and in his visits to countries as diverse as Lebanon and Canada. It is all very impressive.

My Overall Grade for the First 100 Days: B

It's been a good but not unbelievably good first 100 days for President Barack Obama. Long gone are the flowery rhetoric of unity and purpose and in are the politial realities of how to get things done in Washington. He's off to a good start, but has certainly proved that he is only human.

The Public's Opinion
My aggregate polling methodology suggests that as of the end of his first 100 Days, President Barack Obama has an approve minus disapprove of 31.1% as shown on the graph below.

President Obama rode into office on a wave of goodwill, but that faded among Republicans as soon as his policy priorities became clear. It has more or less stabilized in the +28 to +35% range, which is still very high (0% would be a neutral approve/disapprove rating.)

Looking at the internals based on polling methodology we see:
Among All Americans: +36%
Among Registered Voters: +28%
Among Likely Voters: +12%

So, if we take the likely voter model, President Obama has the approval of basically everyone who voted for him, plus 5% who did not (since his margin of victory was just over 7%.)

It would be easy to give President Obama an "A" for approval based on all these positive numbers. But Presidents tend to be popular in their first 100 days, so the real question is how he stacks up against other modern Presidents at this point in his administration.

Since I can't compare all of the different methodologies, as many of the polls and sampling methodologies discussed above did not exist throughout the post-World War 2 era, I will focus on the Gallup numbers, as they have been the one constant from Eisenhower on.

On both his average over his first 100 days and his approval at the end of his 100 days, President Obama is 6th of 11 post-World War 2 Presidents, dead middle. John F. Kennedy was the best in both measures, Bill Clinton the worst.

So, I guess if we grade this on a curve against other modern contenders, President Obama gets a "C" from the public.

Much has been made of the partisan divide. In the Gallup polling, the separation between Democratic approval of the President and Republican approval of the President is the greatest of any post-World War 2 President at this point in his Presidency, displacing George W. Bush, who had previously been ranked the most "polarizing". Clearly, President Obama has drawn some clear lines that have enraged Republicans -- a big stimulus bill, a full-on charge for universal health care, closing Gitmo, releasing the torture memos. But the polling internals also suggest something else. President Obama is more unpopular with Republicans than say Bill Clinton, because there are less of them. A LOT less. Self-identified Republicans now represent 24% of the population, versus 41% for Democrats and 35% for Independents. Republicans were roughly even with Democrats in 2000. A smaller, far more conservative party is far more disapproving of a Democratic President than a larger, big-tent party would be. No word on how Sen. Arlen Specter (now D-PA) identified in the polls.

According to the independent, President Obama has kept 27 campaign promies, compromised on 7 and broken 6.

He also has 474 left to go, 3 that they rate as "stalled", 63 rated as "in the works" and 408 that he has yet to take any action on. For these, I will ascribe no rating as the President never said that everything would be done in his first 100 days, far from it. We'll rate him on his full set of promises at the end of his term.

Based on 40 on which he has taken significant action, we'll give him 100% for "kept" promises, 50% for "compromised" promises and 0% of broken promies, giving the President a 76% rating on promise-keeping.

As far as translating this to a grade, we don't have accurate historical accounts as has not existed for prior administrations. I think it would be very generous to say that on average, President's have kept half their promises. Therefore 50% will be our "C" grade.

By this standard, President Obama gets a B+ on promise-keeping so far.

The First Year
In his first year in office, based on self-identified priorities for the President, I've assembled a preliminary to-do list to measure President Obama against, come next January:

(1) Spend the Stimulus
At least 40% of the money needs to have been spent by January
(2) Sign Into Law A Major Step Towards Universal Healthcare
A stated priority
(3) Sign Into Law Sweeping Environmental Reform Including Carbon Controls
It doesn't have to be cap-and-trade, but it must be real and impactful reform
(4) Sign Into Law Comprehensive Green Energy Reform
The stimulus was a good start, but there is much more work to do to develop a coherent strategy
(5) Sign Into Law Major Educational Reform
Again, the stimulus was a start, but a strategy is needed
(6) Close Gitmo
You said you would do it
(7) Positive Economic Growth
If you do number 1 and the economy is still shrinking, then it didn't work
(8) Get a Budget That Reflects Your Priorities
Your party controls congress, you should be able to get this done

There are lots of other items on the foreign policy front, much to be done on comprehensive immigration reform, etc., but these were the President's stated priorities, so we will hold him accountable accordingly.

News to Come
I haven't commented much on Sen. Arlen Specter's party-switching move this week or on the swine flu outbreak. I'll get to these. I wanted this one to be solely dedicated to the first 100 days.

Thanks for reading, as always and please tell your friends about this site.

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