How Is He Doing? Obama's First 100 Days and His Next 900
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Alternatively, there is reason for optimism. The President's commitment to pragmatism and experimentation suggests that -- if the bank bailout doesn't work, and he's confronted by mobilized citizens and thinkers who understand the endemic problems of the Summers/Geithner approach -- he may ultimately move to a Plan B or even a Team B in order to maintain his popularity and credibility, and keep his agenda alive.
We can also hope that hearings in Congress, and pressure from citizens who seek a non-military path to security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will push the Administration to bear down on regional diplomacy, commonsense counter-terrorism measures, and targeted development aid as the most effective security policies to stabilize the region.
Other issues will measure not only Obama's fighting spirit, but whether this Congress has the spine to be a reform Congress, and whether progressives can mobilize to create space in a system hardwired to resist change.
Key challenges lie ahead. Healthcare will be a brutal battle, as will the energy and climate bill. The gloves are already off over the Employee Free Choice Act and we can't afford to lose that fight -- even if it means a compromise, but one that retains key elements of the bill. Will Obama stand for universal healthcare with an option for a public plan? Without that option, meaningful healthcare reform is in real trouble. On these issues and others, will the President temper one of his favorite phrases -- "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" -- in order to push the limits of the possible? There is a fine line between necessary compromises in order to achieve profound change and watering down polices to appease for-profit special interests.
With regard to torture -- Obama took the much needed step of immediately renouncing it, ending its use, and releasing the memos. But we need to hold not only the architects of illegal activity responsible but also those who implemented it. Torture remains a sore on the body republic, and Congress needs to ensure accountability for the future of our democracy and our reputation in the eyes of the world.
But the defining political struggle ahead is the budget. President Obama knows that the right isn't going to give an inch, that members of his own party are turning tail and fixating on deficits instead of investment, and that some of the missteps of his own economic team have made the budget debate even more difficult. Progressives will need to confront lobbies mobilized to halt essential reforms. For better or worse, this President has shown himself as open to influence -- he's malleable -- and progressives need to keep that in mind as we fight for an agenda that is just, sustainable and real.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.