GOP activist and businessman Brian Sullivan: Accomplishments? What accomplishments?
Brian Sullivan, a businessman, Republican Party activist and once — and possibly future — candidate for governor, doesn’t seem impressed so far.
“Accomplisments would be putting a positive spin on what his record actually is,” he said. “His first major bill was the stimulus bill — and he showed no desire to work with Republicans other than to invite them over to watch the Super Bowl. The stimulus, to my way of thinking, is a whole lot of money being spent, which won’t have an impact on the economy. It’s a poorly crafted, cynical bill that allows him to say ‘accomplishment’ but ultimately won’t help him and will damage the country.’ ”
His appointments: “He’s gotten plausible people around him. On paper, [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner is credible enough, though I think his tax problem should have eliminated him. The example of people like [Tom] Daschle was clearly a misstep. There have been so many of those. Remember, this is a man who promised the most ethical administration ever, no shenanigans and yet, to continuously nominate people like that and say, ‘Well, we’re going to move forward,’ it’s very cynical. Are the people he’s appointed any different than other presidents? Probably not. But he didn’t run like any other candidate.”
Time’s not on Obama’s side, Sullivan predicts.
“His approval ratings are nothing special. They’re average to what other presidents have experienced at this point. People elect a new leader, and they want him to succeed. He has the ability, like Reagan had, to appeal on a personal level, to remain above the fray. Reagan remained popular, but when the economy didn’t approve right away, his party suffered in the first mid-term election.
“I think if there’s not significant improvement in the economy by the end of the year, he’ll start to take heat. And, if he does things like prosecute the Bush lawyers, like he said he’s thinking about, that will eliminate his ability to work with Republicans for the rest of the terms. I don’t think the American people want to see that [prosecution in alleged torture cases]. I think most would believe it’s a terrible thing if there were criminal prosecutions over what essentially are policy differences.”
Professor Ahmed Samatar: He’s doing job with lots of messes to clean up
Professor Ahmed Samatar, a Somali-American, is Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College. His views:
“The Onion was right, even while joking, in reporting “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.” Obama inherited circumstances that are extremely onerous: a country with an almost broken economy, a country whose foreign policy is in shambles, two wars and on and on. He must spend a great deal of his time trying to clean up the mess rather than inventing and doing good things. He has helped us start that process by telling the truth about how bad the economy is, by trying to get the government back in the regulation of the marketplace and by investing in the rebuilding of the country’s economic capacity. He also is starting to clean up foreign policy, making it very clear that the United States is going to reclaim its legitimate leadership by becoming a sensible, cooperative, collaborative citizen of a world that needs to move in a different direction in terms of environmental health, global public health and economic prosperity.
“For me, the one disappointment is the lack of chutzpah, let me use that Yiddish word, in facing up to the state of Israel and its cruel policy toward the Palestinians. Obama has not been able to move toward a different American approach, one of an impartial and neutral friend that wants to help both societies move beyond hate, violence and repression. Otherwise, Obama is building the right alliances. The Latin American conference a week ago testifies to that. If he wanted to become president of the European Union, he probably could be elected. And, increasingly, the people of Africa are watching him with a great deal of interest. For me, he has begun to communicate a compelling vision of the journey we have to make together as people of the United States, and what it will mean for the rest of the world. I haven’t seen anything like this in the 34 years I have been living in the United States.”
Foreign Service veteran Thomas R. Hanson: A re-do with new approach to foreign policy
Thomas R. Hanson, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, is program secretary of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Committee on Foreign Relations and an adviser to the Minnesota International Center. He offers this assessment:
“President Obama has pressed a reset button on foreign policy — returning to approaches taken by past presidents, Republicans and Democrats alike.
“First, he is moving away from the Bush Administration’s emphasis on a war on terror and transformational diplomacy, with its subtext of regime change. Obama is redefining the threats we face, shifting the focus to global threats such as nuclear armament and climate change. The greatest threat to us would be a nuclear attack, terrorist type, and we need to cooperate closely with Russia because it is the greatest source of nuclear proliferation. Obama is doing that, and the two sides have announced they will sign an agreement by the end of the year.
“Second, he is taking a more regional approach to issues. This entails talking directly with adversaries, such as Iran, in some regions. It is a more pragmatic approach with less grandiose rhetoric and more emphasis on working together with mutual respect for different cultures.
“Third, he is trying to revive American soft power, or “smart power,” by setting priorities on diplomacy first, development second and military third. While we hear complaints that he is trying to do too much on domestic issues, I don’t see him as being too ambitious on foreign policy. If anything he has ratcheted back a few of the rhetorical positions that we had under the Bush Administration.
“But Obama has yet to set out his own foreign policy doctrine. Generally he is talking about global issues requiring a global approach. In a sense, it is a force multiplier: by working with allies, not just doing it all alone, we can address more of his issues. He also stresses keeping our words and our deeds in line. It’s not good for the credibility of any nation to let those get too far out of whack. So, through concrete steps he is taking, a doctrine is emerging.
Developer Jerry Trooien: Impressed that Obama is tackling big challenges in big ways
So far, the president’s efforts have been exemplary, said Jerry Trooien, a St. Paul real estate developer.
His biggest challenge has been to address the “crisis of confidence,” Trooien said. “I think he’s done well: The biggest problems are where the biggest opportunities lie.”
More tests will come, though, he predicted. “It helps that he’s real bright, not narcissistic or concerned about appearances. Will the courage be there, as the crises continue? I’m very hopeful,” said Trooien, who in the early 2000s had developed extensive plans for a massive housing and retail project on the banks of the Mississippi River, across from downtown St. Paul. Although he spent millions on the planning, it was shot down by St. Paul officials, who thought it would harm the existing downtown core.
Noting that it’s irrational to judge a president on the first 100 days — “Would you like to judge your marriage on the first 100 days?” — Trooien said that so far, Obama seems to be doing the right thing, rather than just playing to his base. “I don’t see him running from any segment of American society, and that’s good.”
An important point for Trooien: “He’s done his best not to run away from the big problems; that’s key.”
Not everything is perfect. Trooien thought the president’s criticism of corporate jet travel was off the mark. (In addition to real estate, Trooien leases private jets.) “That’s like having a busted aorta and worrying about a hang nail,” he said.
But being president isn’t an easy job, and there will be miscues, he said. “Adrian Peterson fumbles, too. When you’re running and stretch for the extra yardage, once in a while, the ball’s going to pop loose.”
Does his vision strike the right balance between ambition and realism?
“Those aren’t mutually exclusive,” Trooien said. “The more truthful and clear the vision, the more it’s tied to reality.”
State GOP Chairman Ron Carey: He sarcastically calls Obama his ‘favorite president’
Ron Carey has served as state chairman of the Republican Party since 2005 and will be stepping down in June.
Do not mark him down as an undecided. He sarcastically calls Barack Obama “my favorite president.”
But then Carey said: “I think what he’s accomplished is he’s given the American public, or some of the American public, a feeling of more hope than they had, which is what he campaigned on.”
Did we sense a measure of respect in Carey’s voice? A tad bit. But then he continued.
“The problem is, I think it’s going be a short-lived honeymoon for Barack Obama because of his policies.”
Carey noted that Obama has favorable polling numbers personally in these first 100 days but decreasing support on some policies.
“His economic plan just simply doesn’t work,” Carey said. “I believe it will lead to higher taxes, more inflation and probably a prolonged recession because of his policies. He can only get away with blaming former President Bush so long before he gets to start taking responsibility for policies that have been initiated under his leadership.”
Carey went on: “Every day I have more and more concerns about his foreign policy. We’re in this very unsafe world … Instead of cuddling with Hugo Chavez, I think we need a leader who is standing more firm for America’s interests.”
In Carey’s view the first 100 days have revealed “who the real Barack Obama is … Barack Obama, the candidate, and Barack Obama, the president, may be two different people. There was some hope, even some Republicans were saying, ‘Barack Obama, the candidate, is not going to bring a radical set of policies. But it’s becoming more and more obvious he’s trying to govern as a very left-wing progressive and that seems to be outside the mainstream … Who rally is calling the shots? It really is the Move On-dot-org crowd.”
His biggest concern: the national debt. He acknowledges that Dems whacked Republicans for years for this. But Obama’s “spending is unsustainable.”
Asked Carey: “What is going to be the centerpiece of society in America? Is it going to be the government or is it going to be private enterprise and families? Do you believe that government should be cradle to grave, controlling every aspect of your life? That seems to be the path we’re on … That is in sharp contrast to the Republican vision of more freedom for the individual.
“Where is the balance of power going to go? We’ve never seen an expansion of government to the magnitude that Barack Obama is putting in place. That’s going to be a cornerstone issue: Do you want the government to have that much more control of your life? I frame it as to who can make a better decision on spending your money? You at your kitchen table or a bureaucrat in Washington or in St. Paul?”
Carey paused, with Obama in office for barely 100 days.
“I’m sure those themes will be brought out in the next election,” he said.
Lynx basketball player Nicky Anosike: Optimistic so far, awaiting action on key Africa issues
Nicky Anosike is a forward for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. In 2008, she was named the NCAA’s Woman of the Year. A native New Yorker, she played at the University of Tennessee, where she triple-majored in political science, legal studies and sociology. We caught up with her via email from her European team in Poland.
“There are so many sad but real issues that our 44th president must deal with. So far, I am optimistic, because he is at least making the effort to resurface a lot of the important issues that were previously overshadowed by the War in Iraq.
‘These issues include the fact that 46 million Americans do not have health care, more than one million American high school students drop out every year, and in the year of 2008 alone, more than 2.5 million jobs were lost.
“I am satisfied with Obama’s efforts thus far, and I understand that there are so many foreign and domestic issues to be addressed. However, in the near future, I would like to see less talking by the United States and more action to solve the crisis in the Darfur region and the many other troubled areas of Africa.
Other than that, I believe Obama is moving toward the change he has proclaimed from the beginning of his campaign.”
President Obama: The first 100 days
· An overview from community leaders and activists
· Minnesota Congressional delegation
· Current and former public officials
· Special issues: labor, science, gay rights, the arts
Related: Europe’s love affair with Obama by Michael Goldfarb