Obama's First Month: A Report Card

Competence? A+. Leadership style? A+. This is what it must have been like when FDR took over from Herbert Hoover and got people believing and hoping again.


Has it really only been a month since Barack Obama was sworn in as president? So much has happened in that short time. He has not only signed into law a humongous economic stimulus package that is the biggest spending bill in American history, but also ordered a 50 percent increase, to 51,000, in American troops in Afghanistan. He has reversed his predecessor’s policy of torturing prisoners and de-linked foreign aid from the Puritanical sexual anxieties of the far right, and he has presided over the creation of a new plan to help keep hard-pressed homeowners from losing their houses.

That is an impressive list of accomplishments by any standard. It took Ronald Reagan seven months to win congressional approval of his first economic program. But the list pales in significance to what I think is the greatest achievement of Obama’s young administration: helping us to forget that there is anything the least bit unusual or controversial about having a black man in the Oval Office.

Obama is so obviously competent, so clearly in charge, so focused and so mature that he seems to have been in the White House forever. Not to be too mystical about it, but he must have been born for the job. He didn’t simply hit the ground running, he hit it sprinting at a 
historic pace.

He has hit a few bumps in the road—like the embarrassing withdrawal of three of his Cabinet nominees—and made what I regard as a huge mistake by giving a trio of Republican senators too much sway over the stimulus package in a fruitless effort to give the program a 
veneer of bipartisanship.

Yet the whirlwind of activity—and Obama’s charismatic leadership style—have already relegated the era of George W. Bush to the ash heap of history. For me, at least, it’s hard to believe that W. was ever really there.

This is what it must have been like when FDR took over from Herbert Hoover and got people believing and hoping again. This is what it is 
like a short time after any racial barrier falls. People of all racial groups get used to it quickly and wonder what all the fuss was about.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve become what some call a post-racial society or that racism is a thing of the past. It just means that we’ve become accustomed to the idea that black folks can show up anywhere these days. It’s no surprise when one is the boss of a big company or a military commander or the best golfer in the world. The notion of making a big deal about somebody becoming the first black in whatever field now seems at best outdated, if not simply absurd.

The phrase “President Barack Hussein Obama,” which I, and I suspect lots of other folks, once regarded as too exotic to be taken seriously, is now a reality. It has even been used to sign bills into law. In a remarkably short time, all of us have gotten so used to having a black man as president that the novelty has worn off. The symbolic importance of Obama’s presence in the White House will, of course, remain, but it will not overshadow the substance of his policies.

In the end, he will be judged, as he should be, by Martin Luther King Jr.’s standard—the content of his character, not the color of his skin.