The ups and downs of President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office are the focus of Larry Berman’s POL 106 class taught at the UC Washington D.C. Center. Berman, who has made appearances on C-Span’s Book TV and the History Channel’s Secrets of War, is a political science professor at UC Davis and the interim director of the UC Davis Washington program.
“The first 100 days can be quite significant, as they give us clues for understanding how the president is likely to operate,” said Berman in an earlier interview with the UCLA’s Daily Bruin.
Berman, whose study interests are the presidency and the Vietnam War, is also known for his novel Perfect Spy. The book, published in fall 2008, chronicles the life of Pham Xuan An, a well known writer for Time Magazine who secretly spied for the Vietnamese.
Why did you decide to include an analysis of Obama’s first 100 days in the teaching curriculum, and what does the class entail?
During Winter Quarter 2009 I taught a freshman seminar at Davis on “The First 100 Days of the Obama Administration” and thought that it would be a perfect subject for my D.C. course this spring. Here I am teaching my POL 106, The Presidency, with special focus on the Obama administration’s first 100 days.
It is much more dynamic to be teaching a course like this because the 100 days are unfolding right before us. As we approached the 100 day mark, I took the class to the FDR Memorial and we considered the Obama presidency “in the shadow of FDR.“
How do you think President Obama has changed the image of America abroad that was formed during the Bush Administration?
One of the most interesting polls recently has been a PEW Center survey that showed Americans give Obama higher marks in foreign policy than in domestic policy. I think this is clearly a function of the country’s approval of Obama going out of his way to break with the past administration and the decline in anti-Americanism abroad. Much of this has been in style and words rather than actions.
So far, what do you see as the weaknesses of the Obama administration?
The weaknesses have largely been in process – the administration has been very slow in getting their political appointees in place and they clearly mismanaged the vetting process during the transition. With respect to policies, only time will tell whether the economic initiatives produce the type of recovery that Americans are hoping for.
How do you find your students are reacting to Obama’s performance so far?
They are quite positive about his leadership and direction, especially on the release of the torture memos, which was our seminar discussion last week.
In fall 2008, your book “Perfect Spy” was published. What initially interested you in Pham Xuan An’s story?
So many aspects of An’s life interested me. During the Vietnam War, An was a highly respected Time Magazine reporter who turned out to be a spy for the North Vietnamese. For twenty years An lived a lie and no one suspected him of being an enemy agent. That’s pretty intriguing by itself.
I wanted to use the story of An’s life as a window for understanding the complexities of the war from the communist Vietnamese perspective, the story of An’s life as an intelligence agent, his cover in journalism, his years in America, his friendships – the story of war and reconciliation.
Is there anything else you would like to include about the course at UCDC or your book?
The Vietnamese edition of Perfect Spy (Vietnam News Agency Publishing) is at the top of the non-fiction best-sellers list in Vietnam, and I am leaving Wednesday for a brief trip to Vietnam, to participate in a national television show on my book as well as conduct several interviews and research for my next major book project.
I [also] need to say that this is the greatest place to teach this course. I want to do it forever.
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org