After 100 days of the Obama presidency, we’ve been reminded of what it’s like to have a grown-up in the White House. There hasn’t been a president of Obama’s maturity since, well, Ronald Reagan. And his regime, like Reagan’s, could be a game changer.
Beneath his charm, Obama is all business. It’s impossible to imagine him cavorting with an intern or spending hours mountain biking when he should be absorbing briefing papers. He is focused like a laser on his job.
Unlike his immediate predecessor, he seems to be running the government instead of letting the government run him. And he seems so relaxed that it’s almost as frightening as it is reassuring. Given the problems he faces, how the heck can he smile so much?
That’s a welcome change in the atmosphere. Polls suggest most Americans believe that the country is moving in the right direction for the first time in many years, and that is the major achievement of Obama’s honeymoon period. That overall sense of correction probably means more than the specifics of the complicated plans for reviving the economy, solving the financial crisis, prosecuting the linked wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and untangling the increasingly thorny knot of Pakistan.
The extraordinary stockpile of goodwill that Obama has amassed during these early days of his administration will come in handy in the months and years ahead as we learn how well the programs he has put in place actually work. To extend the marital metaphor, we’re going to find out soon enough whether this marriage will last or end in a bitter divorce.
We can already be fairly certain that one of his more politically grandiose objectives—changing the partisan climate in Washington—will never be accomplished, though that is not his fault. The sad truth is that the Republican Party has shown absolutely no interest in lowering its guns and joining in a pragmatic effort to solve the problems Obama inherited from a Republican president.
The GOP remains stubbornly bound by its ideological commitment to the discredited notion that tax cuts are the solution to every problem. In that rigidity, the Republicans remind me of the Bolsheviks, another group of hidebound revolutionaries who wanted to remain ideologically pure rather than come up with real solutions to real problems.
For the time being at least, the GOP has ceded that pragmatic ground to Obama.
People—with the prominent exception of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and those in his crypto-fascistic ilk—want Obama to succeed.
People identify with Obama and, in terms of the economy, they know that they cannot succeed unless he does. The president will likely continue to make overtures to the opposition, in part because that seems to be his nature and in part because it’s good strategy.
Not since Muhammad Ali have we seen such a master of the rope-a-dope; Obama has allowed the Republicans to punch themselves out before throwing a haymaker of his own.
The exact contours of Obama’s political philosophy have yet to emerge; it is clear that he is a reform-minded activist who believes that government’s job is to police existing institutions, such as the banking system, to make them work better. He is no wild-eyed radical with secret plans for socializing the economy, as some of his loonier critics suggest. Indeed, to the dismay of many left-wingers, Obama clearly wants to save the system, not destroy it.
As Obama continually reminds us, solving those problems presupposes an approach that is grown-up and serious. "That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I'm going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come as long as I'm in this office,” the president vowed at one of his early press conferences.
Now that the honeymoon is over, we’d all be wise to be as patient and persistent as we can if we want this marriage to last.
Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.