100 Days, 5 Clichés

Five maxims that will shape the Obama presidency.

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Barack Obama’s ascendancy still brings to mind popular themes from his campaign—“we want change” and “yes we can”—the liberal analogues of “morning in America.”

But brushing aside the loftier characterizations of the president’s political rise, 100 days in, his deliberate style, his approach to political adversaries, his omnibus economic recovery policies and his Aloha diplomacy can be boiled down to a few time-honored adages, dusted off and refurbished for the fresh administration.

That and a low-key saunter worthy of the Ron O’Neal/Ron Burgundy seal of approval.

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

Well, maybe.

Arguing that Americans have no alternative but to make tough choices sooner rather than later, Obama kick-started his legislative agenda with a $700 billion “stimulus package” (the Democrats’ PG-13 rejoinder to Republicans’ “teabagging”), carrying over the Bush-Paulson financial industry bailout and fast-tracking universal health care while fighting two wars. He’s “banking” on a thorough—and expensive—government overhaul as the path to long-term fiscal health. And he’s betting that E.U. parliamentarian Daniel Hennan was wrong when he said, “You cannot spend your way out of recession or borrow your way out of debt.”

It’s both the most prudent and most dicey plank in Obama’s platform. Keynesians are pleased for the moment, but what happens when the Bank of China turns down our next re-fi loan application?

“Haste makes waste.”

Obama is about action. Like the Schoolhouse Rock song goes—Verb: That’s Our President. But at the same time, the president doesn’t like to be rushed.

He rode out weeks of Republican flak while Congress pushed through his stimulus bill. He’s patiently courted the Middle East—tiptoeing up on them via interviews and taped messages before dropping in for a plenary address. He took center stage in front of the hecklers while Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was getting his act together. And when a reporter tried to serve him, questioning his time-released outrage over AIG bonuses, Obama fired back with: “I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”