First Hundred Days in Full Bloom
The success of these honeymoons are predicated on a number of variables, including the scale of the incoming president's agenda, the size of his electoral mandate, the partisan composition of Congress, and his public approval rating. For Obama, the forecast is favorable on all fronts. His agenda is indeed expansive, beginning with a second stimulus package that may exceed costs of $1 trillion. Coupled with significant revisions in troop allocations to Iraq and Afghanistan, along with promises to reform health care and support renewable energy alternatives, President Obama has a full plate.
His early actions are indicative of his ambitions. During his first week in office, Obama, via executive order, set in motion the closure of the controversial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, reformed the interrogation process used against suspected terrorists, opened access to presidential records, and ended the ban on funding to overseas organizations that enable abortion and other forms of family planning. He is poised to sign the Lilly Ledbetter bill which will enable women and other members of minority groups to press for legal recourse in cases of pay discrimination, and met yesterday with Republican congressional leaders in an attempt to build bipartisan support for the aforementioned stimulus package.
Obama's electoral mandate was reasonably large, as he earned 53% of the popular vote to Senator John McCain's 46%. This translated into an Electoral College landslide, with Obama besting McCain 365-173. We have not witnessed these margins since then Vice President George H. Bush defeated Governor Michael Dukakis by 8% and rolled in the Electoral College 426-112.
Unlike Bush 41, Obama also enjoys expansive majorities from his own party in both houses of Congress. In the Senate, Democrats outnumber Republicans 56-41, with two Independents caucusing with them, and the still unseated Al Franken from Minnesota poised to give Obama 59 Democratic votes in the upper chamber. It is important to note that 60 votes provides a filibuster proof majority, meaning Democratic unity plus one Republican defector would create a streamroller over the minority party. Jimmy Carter was the last president to preside with a filibuster-proof majority of 61 senate votes.
In the House, Democrats control more seats than their Republican counterparts ever did during the heyday of the Gingrich Revolution of the 1990's. The 257-178 Democratic majority falls one vote short of their tally as Bill Clinton came into office in 1992. It goes without saying that Democrats can enact their agenda without a single Republican vote, even weathering some significant defections. One word of caution, however: Keep an eye on the so-called "Blue Dog Democrats," a coalition of 61 fiscally conservative Democrats who may grow weary of the deficit-inflating implications of the stimulus package and other elements of Obama's agenda.
Finally, Obama moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with sky-high approval ratings. According to a composite average calculated by Real Clear Politics, Obama holds a 63.3% approval rating, with only 20% giving him the thumbs down, an astounding 43.3% split. Simply stated, these heights have not been explored by an incoming administration since the soaring days of JFK and Camelot.
My survey of the political landscape complete, it is important to raise the issue of presidential skill in working with Congress to achieve his desired ends. Many a president has entered office with favorable indicators and proceeded to squander this political capital shortly thereafter. Bill Clinton is a recent example, and Jimmy Carter's tenure should spur caution for those who have already penciled in Obama for a second term. He might instead look to Ronald Reagan, who did not even enjoy a majority in the House, yet worked hand-in-hand with Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neil to enact expansive tax cuts and deregulation.
Based on Obama's cordial meeting with congressional Republicans yesterday, Obama is off to a solid start, even if he failed to earn their votes.