This week President Barack Hussein Obama will complete his first 100 days in office. Ever since the crisis-ridden presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first 100 days has been used as a yardstick to measure a president’s effectiveness in implementing the policy agenda and promises made during the campaign. Obviously, pundits and commentators in America and the world are eager to take stock of the first African American to occupy the White House.
To put first the 100 days of this historic presidency in context, it is important to note that Barack Obama assumed office during one of the greatest crises in this country. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he faced the awesome task of saving a deeply divided country, a mission which necessitated winning a bloody civil war and rendering a judgment on the status of the enslaved sons and daughters of Africa in America. FDR faced the arduous challenge of rescuing the nation from the Great Depression, an economic collapse so severe that there was a legitimate danger that the dispossessed might rise in rebellion against the government. World War II was also on the horizon.
Propelled into presidency on the promise and hope of “Change You Can Believe in,” President Obama inherited the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, a war in Iraq and a potential quagmire in Afghanistan. Because of the bellicose policies of the Bush-Cheney era and a “War on Terrorism,” epitomized by gross disregard for human rights and international law, Obama accepted the mantle of leadership at a time when much of the world scorned the U.S. On the domestic front, the Bush-Cheney years were a reign of terror on working people, the middle class and the poor as the wages/incomes of ordinary Americans plummeted and concentration of wealth at the top reached obscene proportions. Looming just below the surface was/is the issue of whether the election of a Black President will eradicate the disparities in health, education, income and wealth between Blacks and Whites – and whether the seemingly intractable problems afflicting the Black poor will be addressed. By any reasonable standard, President Obama was dealt an incredibly difficult hand. The question is what does the first 100 days suggest in terms of the ultimate legacy of his presidency.
This was the question addressed at the National Town Hall Meeting, convened by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century April 24, in Washington, DC. A stellar panel of scholars and leaders was charged with reviewing the President’s performance for the nation as a whole, and through the prism of the “Black Agenda.” There was general consensus that President Obama has moved with amazing speed to address the complex challenges of the economic collapse by advancing the stimulus package, mortgage recovery plan, auto bail-out proposals and the Toxic Assets Recovery Program (TARP) to remove bad loans and investments from books of the banks. On this set of issues, Congressman John Conyers seemed to capture the sentiment of the panelists when he expressed the view that the TARP plan instituted by Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner was far too generous to the banks, while putting the taxpayers at risk if the plan fails. Energized by the opportunity to offer a constructive critique of Obama administration policies before an eager audience, Congressman Conyers also suggested that the President’s health care proposal would once again reward the insurance companies. He suggested instead that the administration embrace a single payer system as a more cost effective, universal and fair approach to health care.
Arlene Holt-Baker, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO, is pleased the President has pledged to support the Employee Freedom of Choice Act that would make it much easier for workers to organize unions but gave him a grade of incomplete because he has yet to press for the passage of the legislation. Dr. E. Faye Williams, Chairperson of the National Congress of Black Women, was exuberant over the number of women appointed to key positions in the administration. Stephanie Jones, Executive Director of the National Urban League’s Public Policy Institute, gave President Obama high marks for keeping his promise to create a White House Office on Urban Affairs. She also expressed confidence that his budget proposals on health, education and energy coupled with the stimulus package would have a positive impact on Black America.
Dr. Ronald Walters pointed out that few people even know the name of the person appointed to head the White House Office on Urban Affairs (Adolpho Carrion) and that thus far the office has a very low profile. Fox News Political Commentator, Dr. Mark Lamont Hill and Makani Themba-Nixon of the Praxis Project joined in a lively discussion about the importance of targeted programs to meet the critical needs of Blacks, especially in urban areas. Absent such a strategy, serious questions were raised about whether Obama’s “race-neutral” approach would have a significant impact on the plight of the Black poor. Professor Ali Mazrui praised Obama for employing a brilliant strategy to win the Presidency but suggested that the President might be reluctant to advance an aggressive policy on Africa for fear of being accused of favoritism based on his race.
While a broad range of other domestic and foreign policy issues was discussed, Dr. Ronald Walters offered a view that may have mirrored the sentiments of the panel and many of the hundreds who attended the Town Hall Meeting. He essentially gave President Obama a B+ for his first 100 days, an A on overall performance but a C in matters pertaining to the Black Agenda. Dr. Walters led the way in praising the President for achieving so much in such a short period of time but cautioned that as it relates to Black issues and concerns, Obama apparently believes his policies will be the proverbial “rising tide lifts all boats.” Notwithstanding his rejection of this notion, the Dean of Black Political Scientists believes the Obama Presidency offers a great opportunity to achieve significant change. However, his advice is that we must organize to promote our policy agenda and constructively engage the Obama administration to work for its enactment.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. He is the host of An Hour with Professor Ron Daniels, Monday-Friday mornings on WWRL Radio 1600 AM in New York and Night Talk, Wednesday evenings on WBAI 99.5 FM, Pacifica New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.