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Union University Department of Political Science

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Lewis Speaks on Obama's First 100 Days

May 1, 2009

Professor David Lewis of Vanderbilt University spoke last night on Obama's First 100 days. If grading Obama, he said that he deserves an incomplete because there has not been enough time to truly assess him but so far he thinks Obama has done well.

Lewis began by discussing Obama's presidential style and thinks that there are three ways that he is changing the presidency. First, Obama is the "ever present president" constantly on the news as he reinforces the idea that he is working to solve the serious problems we face. The problem is that the president is weak in that it is difficult to achieve one's goals but the frenetic pace is something that the public may begin to expect. Second, Obama understands the power of symbols through his acceptance speech, victory speech, and presidential actions. The question is whether the symbolism will last and whether it will be matched with substance? Third, he has married political strategy and policy with technology by using his grassroots support to pressure congress. More and more politicians will attempt this changing the face of politics.

Lewis also talked about the size of his agenda and the difficulty he may have passing it. Obama's budget is his blueprint but he must get his agenda through and that will be more difficult. And Obama will be judged by his results. The problem is that he is trying to rush to do everything and may succeed in nothing. Obama is not helped by restoring bipartisanship because none really exists. Lewis said that Obama tried initially but gave up after he realized that the parties are too polarized to cooperate.

Lewis then talked about what we should see moving forward. First, he said that Obama's agenda is historic and that if he gets it through then he will have to be considered one of the most formidable presidents in history. However, the Republicans will oppose it and Democrats will become more divided over time. Obama has a short window to get a lot through before the public blames Obama for our problems which makes his job even more difficult.

Second, Lewis emphasized that passing legislation is not enough; it must also be effectively implemented. In examining Obama as an executive, he said that Obama has a propensity to centralize control in the White House. He is especially doing this by creating Tsars. The problem is that by empowering these individuals that it leaves little role for cabinet members as policy makers. The question is whether cabinet members will be content to be middle managers and whether Tsars have the power to make Cabinet members do what she wants.

Third, Obama appointments have been centrist so far but that may change. Obama needed to appoint Clintonistas because they are the only Democrats with experience to run a government. Obama is appointing more liberal people to subcabinet positions grooming them for cabinet positions and creating a more liberal pool for future Democrats to choose their appointees from. 

Lewis concluded saying that he gives him an incomplete so the progress is good so far. The questions that will determine his overall success we do not have answers to so far. Will the stimulus work? Will offers to talk with Iran and others work? Will his appointees be successful? Does he have the steel to lead the world? Overall, Lewis said that due to fatigue of the Bush years and the desire for change, Obama is like the baseball player coming up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded? He can strike out or hit an home run. What Obama will do, we will find out in time.