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Gary Horton: Our first 100 days in office

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: April 28, 2009 9:03 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The media is brimming full of commentary on "President Obama's First 100 Days." Most folks have already tired of the build-up.

Still, turning 100 today, we'll suffer a tortuous gauntlet of reviews from Fox's "he's a socialist nightmare" to U.S. magazine's gushing for the lovey-dovey White House fashion couple with cute kids and a new dog.

Settle on your own Obama slant and spin your TV dial. You're sure to find something reaffirming your views. Seems that with the explosion of content on cable and the Web, most no longer really watch or read the news to learn new things. We watch to feel good about what we already believe.

Decades prior, restricted to three centrist news channels, like it or not, we were forced to face what we both liked and dislike. Today, we dial to where we feel most welcome and affirmed. This self-reinforcement and thought isolation is why America continues ever more politically polarized. We've become a nation of red and blue mental shut-ins.

So on Obama's first 100 days, we already know what we think, and we'll tune in wherever, to hear our own thoughts talking back. More interesting is considering ourselves. How did Americans behave during our first 100 days? How did you and I manage the transition from Bush to Obama? This presidential changing of the guard was unlike any prior, and American reaction ranged from political ecstasy to cop-killing after a nasty Glenn Beck show.

The spontaneous re-ignition of Republican hyper-partisanship means America flubbed its 100-day good will test. Minority Whip Michael Steele's cynical stimulus "goose egg" vote has been the tone- setter and door-closer against any notion of a new era of cooperation. While the name, "Goose-egging" never caught on like "Tea-bagging." Goose-egging is the de facto Republican response to ... everything. Goose-egging as policy means Republicans earn an "A" grade in obstructionism for their first 100 days.

Yet, despite having been "egged on," most Americans feel happier about their country and its progress. Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of Obama and 48 percent say America "is on the right track" - up from 15 percent mere months ago. Our first 100 days were happy ones. We're OK with handshakes with Chavez, pirates shot in the head, struggles against recession - and we can give ourselves a B+ for overall attitude.

But there's a hullabaloo over recovery spending. While professional economists say Obama should have borrowed and primed the pump even more, Fox talking heads have gone berserk, recognizing a profitable wedge issue when they stupor into one.

But Fox and friends' outrage is but a tempest in a teapot. Red ink during recessions is akin to setting backfires in a firefight. You fight fire with fire. The only thing worse than inflation is deflation, and even "Buck" McKeon was scared weak-kneed, voting for the $750 billion bank bailout. Buck was for stimulus spending before he was against it, and now after 100 days of financial calming, there's wiggle room for political haymaking. On this, Buck gets an "A" in political charades and a "D" in integrity.

Obama reversed Bush's reversing of Clinton's ban on stem cell research and the religious right rallied God back into the fight. But God in politics no longer wins, and after 100 days of state vs. church sanity, many Republicans are wondering if they should drop culture wars in favor of economic and civic positions. So the Republican Party gets mixed grades for faith in politics. Let's wait another year for final results.

With Bush memos, torture popped out of the dungeon into our living rooms. We see some Americans rooting for it, others defining it, most abhorring it and Dick Cheney just freaking us out. More Americans want our nation to come clean on this, so we won't soon be sweeping torture's bones under the rug. One hundred days in, and America gets a B+ for penitence and a renewed sense of conscience.

Striking, in these 100 days, comes an unusual convergence and emergence of those most reactively disappointed. Righteous stem-cell fighters, stimulus deficit decriers and torture tooters have congealed as part and parcel, one and the same. Flip your dial to Fox and witness the newest wave of Republicanism: Torturing Tea-baggers for God Just Saying No.

Torturing Tea-baggers for God are a vocal crowdlet. Tea party sign wavers and even Republican columnists in this paper advance God, torture and no taxes as the credo of their reactive wavelet. America's rightist diehards get an A+ for their weird radical convergence.

So, 100 days in, and most of America are hopeful and satisfied and earning passing grades. Still, a recoiling and angry minority emerged as Torturing Tea baggers for God Just Saying No. At 100 days, Americans earn many grades in many subjects, but most striking of all is our A+ for our uniquely American political bipolarism.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. "Full Speed to Port" appears Wednesdays in The Signal. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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