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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Defining Moments

The 100-day mark is an exercise in futility. It neither provides any defining, authoritative conclusions, nor does it lay sufficient evidence for future successes. But the mark, however flawed a construct it is, is not just an indicator and predictor of performance. Rather, it conveys a perspective of context.

And the perspective of context matters, as it then emerges as a template from where we can evaluate the short-term projects that have been implemented. And sometimes, early successes or failures can define a presidency.

The past few years witnessed a successive failure of American leadership. This incident was at once a function of boomer quarrels, cultural misalignment, racial fragments and technological distraction. Mired in internal conflict, America consequently and consistently ignored the most pressing problems she faced. It threatened the very values and essence of America.

It is this framework of failure that President Obama is cast into. The presidency is not a tale about Obama, but by virtue of his role, his identity and actions are central to it. Subsequently, he has come to illustrate that, while his success in setting and driving the agenda for legislation has yet to truly manifest its projected long-term impact, he has changed something fundamental in us. That something is perception, at domestic, foreign and local levels.

The domestic perceptions are our conceptions of the role of government in the public sphere. If Reagan thought the solution to societal ills was to remove government from the equation, Obama proposes to re-center government to the very heart of problems. He has almost nationalized banks, dramatically increased the influence of the government for the next decade, proposed activism. It is almost a story of continuous government stewardship in a more fragile, interdependent world.

Then there is America’s tarnished international reputation. After years of dwindling American moral statureculminating in the shoe-throwing incident of President BushObama has reoriented our image through choice and circumstance.

Choice by his decision to embrace hostile regimes, including negotiating with socialist dictators and releasing torture memos, while circumstance by his apologetic remarks during the European summit. At once, Obama has reshaped the contours of America to a more tolerant, open nation, a claim of the moral high ground.

Finally, the most palpable change Obama has delivered is elevating a sense of national purpose. After years of fractious contentions created a legacy of disorientation with the government, the number of applications for public service is on the rise, while as the New York Times reported,two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good.

Meanwhile, incendiary Republican rhetoric increasingly appears to be extremist and vacuous. The optimism that America, at its core, is capable for dedicating service is finally returning.

Sometimes, there are aspects in life and in society that cannot be merely reduced to statistics and numbers. Instead, by its arbitrary, transient nature, these are categories that defy measurements and quantification.

Similarly, we cannot judge Obama’s 100 days by merely ranking the state of the economy or the legislation he passed. But we can try to understand the quiet and implicit transformations he brings: the sense that something grand is occurring, the anticipation that at a critical moment in our history, we are finally moving past our old battles and confronting our new ones.

For that reason, the 100-day mark is instructive as it is pointless.

Astounding feats of leadership are often demonstrated during moments of gravest dangers. Obama has shown us glimpses of what he can achievedemonstrating, through a sincerity to resolve, a willingness to listen and political poise, that America can assert its authority as the force of democratic good that it has often been.


ZACH HAN demands a 100-day evaluation for everything in life. Propose a different solution at zklhan@ucdavis.edu.


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