Obama: 100 days, 100 ways
From closing down Guantanamo and banishing lobbyists, to dressing down in the Oval Office and planting vegetables on the South Lawn, the Obama presidency is reshaping America. David Usborne takes stock
Wednesday 22 April 2009
1 When presidents get invited to the annual Gridiron Dinner for a night of political skits among the Washington press corps, they always go. Not this one, who became the first sitting President politely to decline.
2 We have had lots of canine companions on the rugs of the Oval Office, but Obama's is the first first whose name, Bo, is also his master's initials. Better still, Portuguese water dogs come with fine Democrat credentials – Senator Ted Kennedy has litters of them
3 Americans have become accustomed to knowing that the so-called "enemy combatants" were being held at a safe distance – at Guantanamo Bay. But BO comes into office and instantly declares he will close it within a year.
4 Never mind the Bush policy of hostility to Iran, BO has been making tentative overtures, asking Tehran to cooperate on Afghanistan and edging towards face-to-face talks on its nuclear programme without preconditions.
5 In his first formal press conference, BO took a question from a correspondent of The Huffington Post, the political blog site. In this White House, old journalism must compete with new journalism.
6 As soon as the first cherry buds were bursting in Washington, Michelle Obama, accompanied by local school children, was breaking sod for the First Family's organic vegetable patch.
7 America is no longer shrugging its shoulders at the drug cartel violence shaking Mexico. BO and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the US is fueling the problem, supplying guns and consuming the drugs.
8 The Beast. The new first limousine – a Cadillac with more armour than your average tank and bullet-proof windows – has already prowled the streets of London, Strasbourg, Prague and Istanbul. And Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day.
9 Rush Limbaugh is the conservative blowhard on the radio who millions of Americans long ago learned to love or hate. But now his visibility, ratings and influence have soared. Some even tag him the unofficial head of the Republican opposition.
10 When Nato fed live footage of Barack and Michelle arriving for a dinner hosted by Angela Merkel into a packed press room, scores of normally cynical reporters rose to their feet to clap.
11 It was President Rutherford Hayes who, in 1878, established the tradition of the "egg roll" on the White House lawn at Easter. But BO did it a bit differently, inviting gay parents and their kids to join in.
12 It did not take long before BO was attempting to warm up relations with Russia, hinting at dropping US plans for missile defence bases in Eastern Europe if Moscow could see its way to being more helpful on the Iran nuclear issue.
13 Sorry tennis fans, this was always going to happen. BO has installed basketball hoops on the White House tennis court, thus giving him a place to indulge his ball-bouncing passion – and keep in shape.
14 This president has been slower than almost any in filling all the seats of his cabinet which only met for the first time this week. Some of his nominees ran into ethics (tax-payment) problems.
15 BO ordered the release of Bush-era Justice Department memos purporting to give legal cover to "enhanced" interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects that some would call torture and describing exactly what they involved.
16 Never mind if he spent half the election campaign battling rumours that he was a closet Muslim. In Turkey this month, BO – middle name Hussein – played up his years spent living in Muslim-majority Indonesia as a child and visited the Blue Mosque.
17 If Americans thought they were smart rejecting a white-haired oldie (John McCain) in favour of youth, they need to look more carefully at the man who won. Flecks of grey are now visible in the short-buzzed Obama coiffure.
18 At the Summit of the Americas, BO didn't run for cover when Hugo Chavez approached and thrust into his hand a book decrying American imperialism in Latin America. He said it was a "nice gesture".
19 J.Crew, the US high-street clothing chain that Michelle adores, has become America's most fashionable label. At the inauguration celebrations, she wore Crew shoes and gloves – and on the visit to London for G20, there she was at Downing Street in a sparkly Crew cardigan.
20 The anti-Carter. BO could hardly have been better served by those sharp-shooting Navy Seals who picked off three pirates off the coast of Somalia and rescued Captain Richard Phillips. Protracted hostage crisis averted.
21 It sounds so 1990s, but BO and Dmitri Medvedev of Russia agreed in London to get working again on reducing their nuclear warhead arsenals to even lower levels and soon, perhaps to just 1,500 each or even less.
22 Some thought it inappropriate with millions on their knees financially, but BO saw nothing wrong with using The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as a forum for selling his economic policies. No sitting president has done the late-night TV circuit before.
23 Never mind the West Wing, what about the West West presidential retreat? It's bye-bye Crawford, Texas, as BO looks to his native Hawaii as the best place spend down time with his family. Big air miles for travelling press corps.
24 Goodie bags are not BO's strength. First he gave Gordon Brown a DVD box set of classic movies and then an iPod to the Queen. You put those white bits in your ears, Ma'am.
25 The order was in long before he was President, but BO thought a programme to replace his Marine One helicopter fleet at a cost of nearly $12bn a bit extravagant. Looks like he will cancel it.
26 Reinventing the bow. Conservatives frothed when BO executed what looked awfully like a bow when visiting King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Not so insisted the White House, he just bent his body in the middle a little bit.
27 Kyoto is no longer a swear word in the White House. With other countries getting ready to renegotiate the emissions-cutting treaty, BO says America won't drag its feet but get out in the lead.
28 Rainbow cabinet. Bill Clinton used to show off the diversity of his cabinet that "looked like America". But BO's may be more diverse still, with seven women, four African Americans, three Asian Americans and two Hispanics.
29 Remember how George Bush Sr abhorred broccoli? Well, BO has a pet hate on the vegetable plate too. Or call it the red scare. There will be no beets grown in Michelle's veggie garden.
30 They may not be the best basketball team on the map, but the Washington Wizards have a new fan. Yup, BO actually showed up for a game the other day – against his hometown Chicago Bulls. (Wizards won.)
31 On edge since day one of the new administration – the leaders of Washington DC's various protestant flocks. The Sundays fly by, but the First Family has yet to pick a church in the nation's capital to worship at.
32 Rejoice, the rail age is back. BO says he is ready to spend $13bn developing a handful of regional networks of high-speed trains. It's not a lot of money, but it's been a long time since any president showed train travel some love.
33 Some call BlackBerry phones a gateway device (they are addictive) and others see them as a security risk when in the hands of a US president. But BO didn't care. He still has his.
34 Kid-friendly. The sounds of children are back in the White House – and on the lawn. The mini-Obamas – Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 – have been given a spanking new climbing frame and swing set.
35 Lessons in not taking offence. BO is serene about his intellectual abilities, even though Arizona State University declined to promise him an honorary degree when he speaks to students on campus next month. He is too young and inexperienced, ASU said.
36 Lessons in riding the roundabouts with the swings. Three days after speaking at Arizona State, BO will visit Notre Dame University in Indiana, which will be giving him an honorary degree.
37 In his quest to curb the influence of lobbyists on government, BO has banned them from talking to his own officials about projects that might qualify for federal stimulus money. The lobbyists ain't happy.
38 Casual Saturdays. White House staff were told that the old Bush rule requiring suits and ties seven days a week was no more. For West Wing weekends, "business casual" will do just fine. (No flip-flops in other words.)
39 Setting a precedent, the White House forced General Motors to ditch its CEO, Rick Wagoner. The message is clear: if you want taxpayers' money (and lots of it), the government wants some control.
40 The medical research industry is flourishing again, following the lifting of Bush's restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research, seen by many as holding the key to cures for diseases like Alzheimer's.
41 America has its first black President and First Lady.
42 BO declared he would end the war in Iraq – carefully. Indeed, the end does seem to be in sight, though for some it could come sooner. Combat operations will cease late next year. The President expects to leave 50,000 soldiers in Iraq to "police it" until the end of 2010.
43 It's a sort of weekly letter from the White House and few Americans pay attention. But at least now, anyone who's interested can watch as well as listen to the Saturday radio address by the President. Since BO came in, it's been on YouTube, too.
44 There are 47 million uninsured Americans. This President says he is going to reform the healthcare system to give everyone coverage. Well, almost everyone. His words are encouraging, but there is a history here that is not.
45 There is no generational bias in this White House when it comes to music. Within hours of the swearing in, the Jonas Brothers (very young) were visiting the Obama girls; weeks later, Stevie Wonder was also in the building (older).
46 Sporting traditions are there to be broken, apparently. It went without saying that BO would throw out the first ball at the opening game of the Major League Baseball season for the Washington Nationals. They invited him on the mound. He turned them down.
47 It is what George W didn't want America to see: coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base bearing the bodies of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pushing his agenda for transparency, BO lifts the ban on media coverage and pictures begin to be published.
48 Overload is a word this President may have never used, but might begin thinking about the next time he tells his staff he wants to give a press conference/speech/policy address or general pep-talk. An occasional day without him on television might be refreshing.
49 Havana here we come: the US blockade is 47 years old, but in his first 100 days in office this President has changed the mood music across the Florida Straits entirely. The embargo remains, but already he has ended travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans.
50 The Obama White House has been opened to regular visits by Washington-area schoolchildren to give them a first-hand view of government in action.
51 Barely one second after the swearing in on 20 January, a new White House website was on the internet with a feel and functionality far removed from the staid version that was there before. At www.whitehouse.gov you could look at slide shows or read the rolling Obama blog.
52 There are strong signals everywhere that the administration is preparing to get tough on domestic emissions, especially since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorised carbon dioxide and five other warming gases as deleterious to public health.
53 Wall Street is still reeling – as are New York's tax collectors – after BO set a $500,000 limit on salaries that can be paid to top executives of banks that take taxpayers' money to stay afloat.
54 We still don't know for sure where all of them were – in as many as eight countries perhaps – but we do know that the secret prisons used by the CIA for the holding and interrogation (torture?) of some "high-value" terror suspects have now been formally closed.
55 He told Americans he would cut the federal deficit, but so far everything he does points to it getting bigger and bigger. Not much help will come from his asking his cabinet this week to identify $100m spending cuts in the next 90 days. A drop in the proverbial bucket.
56 Openness about money. The first couple revealed that their combined 2008 income was $2.7m (£1.8m). Not quite as good as 2007, when they raked in $4.2 million. Where did most of it come from? BO's best-selling books, of course.
57 Talk of building a fence along the US-Mexican border has fizzled – it was never practical anyway. Instead the US now has a border Tsar. He is Alan Bershin and his job will be to reduce violence near the border and stop smuggling – of bodies northwards and guns southwards.
58 Reaching out to Jews too. When BO held a traditional Seder (dinner) at the White House to mark the beginning of Passover, it was another first for the kitchen and for the office of the President altogether.
59 Yes, he's a star. But Michelle is, too. There's no question that she rivals him in the celebrity ratings, which is why Madame Tussauds in Washington recently added a likeness of the First Lady next to the new Commander-in-Chief, lest tourists be disappointed at getting just one Obama instead of two.
60 He may have been wary of mixing too frequently with Hollywood A-list types, but his White House doesn't mind hiring an actor or two. Kal Penn, star of House and the Harold and Kumar comedy film series, has been hired to do public outreach.
61 BO says he will enforce laws prohibiting the export of assault weapons over the Mexican border but has so far shown no sign of wanting to renew the expired ban on such shooters in the US.
62 If Iraq is another man's war, maybe Afghanistan will be this one's. Already BO has increased troop numbers in the country by 21,000 and has unveiled a sweeping new strategy which see a much closer focus on neighbouring Pakistan also and new police and military training efforts.
63 When people protest against this President they say they are having tea parties. How very quaint. The reference of course is to the Boston Tea Party and the point at several of these parties this month was to protest against the tax code and all that federal spending that's going on.
64 Technology does not scare this one. And so we have witnessed the first virtual town hall meeting ever hosted by a US President. Among questions he took while standing before a small live audience in the White House: do you approve legalising marijuana?
65 $2,300,000,000,000: That's the little disagreement between Obama and the independent Congressional Budget Office, which thinks his spending/tax revenue projections vastly underestimate the deficits he will run under his budget plans over the next decade.
66 Stressed? Not he. It's Mr Cool, even in the financial crisis. It is the banks that are under stress, facing a "stress test" designed to see whether they can stay solvent through a long recession. The results are due out next month, and not a few executives are sweating.
67 Not a salad dressing, Cinco de Mayo is the national holiday for Mexicans that is coming up fast. Never one to miss a chance to reach out to another community – a massive one in the US – this White House is planning a big 5 May bash in the garden. Hit the piñata, not the President.
68 Don't mention your bonus, because BO doesn't want to hear about it, especially if your employer is called AIG. Under this President, you even have to give it back!
69 From bad grammar to bad taste. BO's gaffes are a lot less funny than GW's, and he left the politically correct gasping when he likened his bowling to "the Special Olympics or something". Cue much apologising to the Shriver family, which organises the event for disabled athletes.
70 As summiteers go, he ain't bad. At the G20, he didn't get the stimulus he wanted from inflation-wary Europeans, but there was new money for global trade and the IMF. And he won his diplomacy spurs by taking the French and the Chinese into separate corners on tax havens.
71 Email from the Prez. The army of supporters that elected him is still getting spammed, pressed into action in support of the economic stimulus plan, for instance. The theory is that voters can be cajoled into supporting his policies just as they were cajoled into electing him. We will see.
72 America hit by acronym storm. With his PPIPs (public-private investment partnerships), TALF (Term asset-backed securities loan facility) and SSFI (systemically-significant failing institutions programme, for which read, billions of dollars handed to the insurer AIG), it is hard to keep up.
73 Tongue-tying is so passé, thanks to the new resident of the White House who has made it acceptable to rely on a Teleprompter at any and all occasions where a speech may be called for. Any danger you will have to say grace at lunch on Sunday? Get a Teleprompter installed.
74 Relations between any president and the US Congress are rarely smooth. Kudos then for persuading both chambers to pass 2010 budget resolutions that more or less reflected the blueprint handed to them by the White House.
75 No president likes wayward family members. And yet this one doesn't seem to get distracted by a half-sister in Boston who has apparently overstayed her visa and faces deportation and a half-brother who couldn't persuade British passport officials to let him in at all.
76 Talk of brackets from this White House has nothing to do with taxes. BO saw no reason at the start of the March Madness basketball tournaments not to join everyone else betting which teams would reach which stages and finally win – putting them in the appropriate brackets.
77 Remember when Wall Street and the White House were in love? How they have drifted apart! Where financial types once would have queued to serve the new administration in the Treasury, now they are running away. Someone? Anyone? Timothy Geithner needs help!
78 When individual states like California and New York wanted to set their own limits on car emissions, the Bush administration said no, that's federal business. Less than a week in office, BO swept that aside, giving the states a free hand to get tough on Detroit.
79 She went sleeveless even before the daffodils came up. If Michelle has any regrets about the worldwide fascination with those bras sportifs of hers, maybe she shouldn't have posed without a stitch on either of them in her official portrait released back in February.
80 The charm offensive has had its dividends, particularly in the wooing of leaders abroad. Medvedev, Sarkozy, Brown... the Obama conquests are many and varied. But one leader is entirely unimpressed. That would be Kim Jong Il of North Korea with his toy chest of missiles.
81 Pity the Washington lobbyist. Not only is he or she barred from contacting officials about stimulus spending, among BO's first acts was barring them joining the ranks of his staff. Some exceptions have since been made.
82 This President has pecs – which is why he is featured shirtless on the cover of the latest issue of Washingtonian magazine in swimming shorts. Really. McCain would have been so lucky.
83 This Vice President – Jo Biden – may be less stud-like but has a key role in the White House, even standing in for BO at the Gridiron Dinner. Plus, he has multiple portfolios including running the Middle-Class Task Force and speaking for his boss at home and abroad.
84 The road never gets shorter, but we now have a new pledge to arrive at peace in the Middle East, based on the two-state solution with a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a deal between Israel and Syria and the latter's return to the Golan Heights. But...
85 It was anathema to its own executives, but when it came to General Motors, BO signalled that he was not averse to a solution that would involve America's largest car-maker entering bankruptcy, at least for a short time.
86 The election of a Democrat was a disappointment to those conservative commentators, anchors and reporters at Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. But guess what, the channel is positively thriving now as the opposition broadcaster.
87 Old George has been pretty classy, keeping a low profile since leaving office; but not so Dick Cheney, who can't seem to stay away from TV studios – at Fox – to attack BO for his every foreign policy decision.
88 WAG alert! It was the induction of Carla Bruni, the first lady of France, into the exclusive Wives and Girlfriends Club that turned international summits into paparazzi fiestas. But move over Carla, Michelle is the centre of attention for now.
89 Remember the "you-are-with-us-or-against-us" days? This President goes around the world telling people he wants to listen. Some governments barely know how to react.
90 The presentation of Bobama the Portuguese water dog revealed there is still some spontaneity in how the First Family present themselves to the press. The girls decided only at the last moment to join mum, dad and pooch on the lawn. Unplanned but a perfect camera moment.
91 On the campaign trail he sometimes forgot where he was. As Prez, he did it again during his first foreign trip – to Canada. "It's a pleasure to be here in Iowa... er... Ottawa." Oops.
92 If he can't always get out to watch sports, he can always invite the players in for tea. Spied at the White House this week, Tiger Woods and members of the White Sox, his favourite baseball team from Chicago.
93 We haven't seen the results yet, but we do know that the Obamas are dipping into their pockets to remodel the private quarters of the White House, refusing a $100,000 subsidy on offer from Congress. But, hey, with their joint income, that seems cool.
94 Guns galore. BO is dithering, but gun enthusiasts still fear he will unleash his liberal instincts and impose sweeping new controls. Result: gun sales have surged since his swearing in.
95 It's OK to tell unkind jokes about him too, like: He has already has signed a new book deal. It's going to be about how he's made TOUGH decisions in his first 100 days. The chapter on how he made them will be called ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS.
96 He makes no secret of his reluctance to pursue those who may or may not have committed war crimes during the Bush era. Time to move on and all that. But the pressure is growing so fast BO may not be able to resist it.
97 He is nice to Chavez, Castro, Ahmadinejad, Assad of Syria and would probably give Kim Jong Il a hug if they met. But however chummy he tries to be with Republicans on Capitol Hill, they refuse to give the love back.
98 A new BO-hating star is born – Glenn Beck, formerly of CNN, now of Fox, who can't make up his mind if BO is dragging the US towards the abyss of socialism or fascism. Since January, he has built an audience of 2.2 million regular viewers.
99 Not a good number: 600,000 new jobless Americans each month since BO took office.
100 So, the Republicans, are they thriving in opposition? Do they have a convincing challenger to Obama whose name is not Palin? Do they have alternative plans for the economy? No. Not yet, anyhow.
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- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ sign language interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
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- 4 Not all right on the night
- 5 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
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