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Commentary: Is Obama a Clinton or a Carter?

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: It's too early to tell how president will fare
  • He says Clinton was viewed as one-termer and Carter as a success after 100 days
  • He says one of the biggest unknowns is whether his policies will work
  • Rollins: Obama's blueprint for change is definitely too ambitious
By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, was political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Ed Rollins says President Obama has sprinted out to a fast start, but the long-term impact won't be known for a while.

Ed Rollins says President Obama has sprinted out to a fast start, but the long-term impact won't be known for a while.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Today is the 100th day of the Obama administration. Judging a president after 100 days is not realistic -- and may be absurd.

After the first hundred days, President Carter was viewed as potentially great, and President Clinton was viewed as a one-termer. Obviously, it didn't turn out that way.

No one can predict after a few months whether a presidency will be successful over the long four-year term, or eight years if he gets re-elected. We have no idea what lies ahead.

In a way, it is like judging a marathoner after he has completed the first few blocks of a race. You can tell whether he is running easy or smart or whether his stride and pace is correct, but you certainly can't predict whether he will win or finish the race strong.

President Obama certainly has sprinted out fast and seems to be running smoothly.

The president has an appealing style. The country is giving him high marks, but so far they are style points and not necessarily for his policies. We don't know whether the policies will work.

Sixty-plus percent approve of the job he is doing. Most recent presidents get those high marks early on, and his favorable numbers are based on first impressions. And after "President Bush fatigue," he has made the country confident that things will get better.

Obama certainly inherited a mess: a disastrous economy. Unemployment the highest in decades. Manufacturing plants closing and the jobs moving overseas daily. General Motors and Chrysler on the verge of bankruptcy. Our banking system teetering on the brink of collapse. America at war on two fronts. A military worn out by fighting nonstop for seven years. The quality of education dropping in most cities throughout the country. And now a potential swine flu crisis.

Obviously, the most important of all those issues is getting the economy moving forward again. The White House will argue that passing the $787 billion stimulus bill was the biggest accomplishment in the first 100 days.

But getting a Democratic-controlled Congress to spend money on pet projects is easy. Congress loves to spend taxpayers' money and create programs.

The president obviously got a gift for his 100-day anniversary with the switch of Sen. Arlen Specter from the Republican side of the aisle to the Democrats. This will give Obama's party 60 votes in the Senate (if Al Franken is seated for Minnesota), and they can pretty much do what they want: health care, immigration reform and just about any spending program.

The need for no Republicans makes it Obama's show and the end to any bipartisan efforts. The Senate will be like the House: Republicans not needed, not relevant and not wanted!

Will it work? Who knows? How do we pay for it? Who knows? Will it create 3 million jobs? Who knows?

Keeping a Democratic Congress in check on fiscal matters will be the president's real test. How much of this extravagant spending will become part of the baseline of future budgets is the key question. I still don't see a clear plan to fix the banks or the housing mess.

A strong president needs a strong team around him. After a few missteps in the vetting process (A Treasury secretary and a proposed secretary of health and human services who didn't pay their taxes; a nominee for secretary of commerce under federal investigation), the president has done that. His team is experienced. Many served in the Clinton administration or elsewhere in government.

The 15 members of his Cabinet running the executive departments include three former governors, two senators, two members of congress, a big-city mayor, a four-star general and experts in the fields of science, education and housing. His White House staff is also perceived to be first-rate.

I give him high marks as the commander in chief. From retaining Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (one of the best in that job I can remember) to the symbolic inaugural "Commander-in-Chief Ball" (for members of our military) to his redefining the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has impressed many skeptics.

And by allowing the Navy SEALs in Somalia to take out the pirates and by authorizing the use of drones to take out the suspected Taliban terrorists in Pakistan, he showed that he is willing to make the tough decisions and allow our troops to engage.

I do strongly object to his running around the world with "I am sorry!" as his message in apology for American missteps, and I think he has to realize that high-level diplomacy is about taking sides. Not everybody will be -- or wants to be -- your friend. And we need to pick our friends carefully.

It is on the domestic policy front that I have real concerns.

The blueprint is big and expensive. It is definitely overly ambitious.

Health care for all, a bigger federal role in education, environmental regulation, repairing and expanding our infrastructure, and rapid trains all over the country are all admirable concepts. But what can we afford?

Setting priorities is the president's toughest job. Right now, he wants it all. If he's successful, Obama will change American life like few who have gone before him. If his programs fail, the massive debt left for future generations will be the legacy.

If you're a Democrat, the words you would use to describe the president's first 100 days would be something like these: energetic, intense, charming, refreshing, honest, likeable, smart and competent, a leader and a positive change agent.

If you're a Republican, the words you might use are: dangerous, inexperienced, weak, indecisive, reckless spender and liberal. Some Republicans have called him a socialist, and some in the Republican National Committee foolishly want to pass a resolution calling him this.

The truth as always lies somewhere in between.

As Obama has said: I won, and the Republicans lost. It's his prerogative to try to carry this ball up the hill for the next 1,361 days to the next Inauguration Day. As marathoners quickly discover, the race is long, and victory comes to those with staying power. All I can say after 100 days is: Good start, Mr. President; I wish you well! Grade Obama's first 100 days

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.

All About Barack ObamaArlen SpecterRobert Gates

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