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Pundit Thing: Obama’s First 100

April 25, 2009

Foreign Policy asked thirty-five pundits to evaluate Obama’s first 100 days in office. Among the various curmudgeonly, sycophantic and ponderous assessments of the style and execution of the President’s foreign policy–some of which do bring up relevant and important issues–this tidbit from Andrew Bacevich stood out:

Yet when it comes to fundamentals, Obama gets at best an “I,” for incomplete. There is little evidence that his administration has even begun to connect the dots between the foreign-policy failures that defined the Bush era and the economic crisis that defines the age of Obama. Bluntly, the American Century has ended. The world no longer sees the United States as alpha and omega, source of salvation and sustenance, vanguard of history, guiding spirit, and inspiration for all humankind. Obama faces the challenge — and the opportunity — of conceptualizing what follows the American Century, a feat that will require not only dialogue and realism, but also historical imagination and creativity.

But as scholar Tom Sugrue notes in an insightful little historiographical essay on the New Deal and comparisons to Obama, such imagination and creativity on the government’s part rarely appear out of thin air:

It pays to recall that the New Deal was the result of presidential leadership and policy innovation, but also that the drama of the Great Depression and the New Deal played out in places far from the nation’s capital–on New York City’s streets, in Nebraska’s cornfields, in Flint’s auto factories and in California’s shipyards. Perhaps the biggest difference between 2009 and 1933 is that Obama has not, at least yet, been seriously tested by organized pressure from below. That might ultimately be what distinguishes FDR’s administration from Obama’s.

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