Obama's Midterm Grades

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Obama's first 100 days officially come to an end April 30, but I want to get a jump on all of the other carping analysts and get my grades in now. It's not too early to at least give Obama a heads up on what might appear on his transcript by the time he graduates. He can check it out on eGrades starting on May 1.

Obama's first 73 days:

Barack Obama: B+. It's hard to find fault with a guy as polished, intelligent and well-spoken as our president. But his strengths can also become his weaknesses. He is careful with his words, and his administration's moves thus far have been carefully timed and scripted for maximum press effect. Any political campaign knows you have to keep making announcements each week to stay "above the fold" on the news agenda. But why should his administration be run like a campaign? His moves often appear cautious and measured, with focus on press management rather than bold policy. So he gets a small deduction for being too careful. And if I gave him an A, he might coast the rest of the way until finals. Approval numbers are important, but ultimately a legacy is created by what gets done. It's hard to judge today whether Obama's strategy is prudent patience or excessive caution.

Michelle Obama: A-. As first ladies go, it doesn't get much better than the tall and glamorous Michelle. She's been compared to Jackie-O, and so far she's lived up to the hype. She has a warmth and hipness that escaped Laura Bush, and, no offense to Babs (George H.W.'s lady), but Michelle is just nicer to look at than W.'s mom. She has clearly learned from Hillary's mistakes of the '90s-even if you want to get involved in policy, don't get so involved that the right can prop you up as the Wicked Witch of the Left. But I'd like to see her be known for something more than her wit on The View.

Hillary Clinton: A. Hillary has handled her situation with poise and aplomb. She gracefully handed the reins off to Barack during the convention when many people thought she might sulk like some of her Barack-hating die-hard followers. As secretary of state, she seems to be genuinely enjoying her job, unlike some people in the Cabinet. She was treated like royalty in Indonesia, and she handled North Korea without flinching. I believe Madame Clinton will age well and be ready in 2016 to give the presidency another go. There's been some debate about whether keeping her Senate seat would have positioned her better for a second presidential run, but I think she made the right choice.

Timothy Geithner: C. It's unfair to pile on to the Treasury secretary when everyone has decided he is persona non-grata. But I will anyway. His initial waffling and uncertainty on the toxic assets buyback plan sent the market reeling, and his charisma approaches that of Montgomery Burns on the Simpsons. He has a face made for radio, and an unfortunate unease with public speaking. But he's shown signs lately that he can take the heat, so he may improve his grade over time.

Robert Gibbs: B. The unprecedented TV coverage of Gibbs' daily briefings on MSNBC has made the White House spokesperson a household name. As a press secretary who dodges tough questions and gets jokey with the press corps, he's done a great job. But his real job was to show that Obama's administration is more transparent and forthcoming on strategy and plans than Bush's was, and in that, he hasn't done so well. The press is peppering him with tough questions (where were these questions when we had to decide whether going to war was a good idea?), so we can cut him some slack. But to get an A, Gibbs needs to loosen his information belt a little.

A few more grades with shorter commentary:

Reporters: C. Still covering the "who-said-what" rather than the "what does it mean."

Congress: D. Completely partisan, nothing's changed, and Democrats can't get their own in line.

War: C-. Shifting troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan is just shifting the battlefield-50,000 to 100,000 could still be in harm's way for years to come.

Health care: B+. Nice press blitz, but where's the political will in Congress? And when does Kathleen Sibelius (Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services) come out of hiding to give us a plan?

Economy: B. Christina Romer of UC Berkeley, who now works for Obama, says she's "incredibly confident" of recovery in 2010. Ixnay on the omises-pray.

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Grade your favorite White House official with Josh at [email protected]



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