Obama leading U.S. ideological shift

WASHINGTON Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:03am BST

Creations from ''Objects for the Age of Obama'' are displayed at the Satellite designer Furniture exhibition in Milan April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Creations from ''Objects for the Age of Obama'' are displayed at the Satellite designer Furniture exhibition in Milan April 23, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Far more than anything else, President Barack Obama's first 100 days have been marked by an ideological shift to traditional Democratic policies in tackling the U.S. recession.

On foreign policy, Obama has pushed for a more accommodating U.S. diplomacy. He has worked to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq and beef up forces in Afghanistan. Ahead lie tests from the Taliban's rise in nuclear-armed Pakistan, and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

Inheriting the worst economic crisis in decades, Obama and many Democrats are advocating big spending increases on healthcare, education and green technology, calling them investments needed to rebuild the economy.

In so doing, he has set the United States on a path toward reversing eight years of the Bush administration's conservative policies.

"Most of all, I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America's future -- a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes," Obama said in a recent economic speech.

In sum, said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Obama is leading "the most liberal administration we've ever had in terms of what he's trying to do -- with extraordinarily ambitious goals."

How much of his agenda he will be able to navigate through the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress remains an open question, because even some Democrats fret at the costs -- for starters, a record $3.55 trillion budget for fiscal 2010.

"Because of the Bush administration's collapse at the end due to the financial situation, he's got a lot of leeway right now in terms of what he can propose. It remains to be seen what he's going to get out of this," Black said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama is pleased with his achievements, "understanding that the American people are certainly not going to grade his administration or our efforts to help turn our economy around and make our people safe just by the actions of the first 95 days."

Obama has held opposition Republicans at bay but battles lie ahead. They are still hoping Americans will take a fresh look at his spending plans and determine there is no way he can pay for them all without breaking his pledge not to tax the middle class.

'ACHILLES HEEL'

"His Achilles' heel is the spending and that's what ultimately will catch up with him," said Republican strategist Scott Reed. "We're going to be saddled with trillions of dollars in debt and further tax increases staring at us around the corner."

His decision to open the door to the possibility of criminal prosecutions for Bush-era officials whose legal analyses sanctioned harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects could lead to a Washington fixation on the past and distract from his agenda.

Whatever the case, Obama is enjoying a job approval rating of more than 60 percent and has thrived in the limelight of a 24/7 news cycle.

Many Americans have been riveted by all things Obama -- from his new Portuguese water dog, to how often he goes out to dinner, to the planting of a vegetable garden on the White House lawn by his wife, Michelle, whose common-sense style of dress has been dissected and approved by fashion experts.

"His placid demeanor helped soothe the country as he took its reins in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression," wrote Howard Fineman of Newsweek magazine.

Pollster John Zogby said that while Obama remains personally popular, his policies are less so.

For example, Americans are disenchanted with bank bailouts begun in the Bush administration and support for the stimulus package is mixed.

"So you really can't say that America approves of big-spending liberalism," Zogby said. "But you can say that a majority likes him and are willing to believe him."

Abroad, Obama has worked to patch up ties with traditional allies strained by President George W. Bush's Iraq war, promised to try to rid the world of nuclear weapons, spoken of a thaw with communist Cuba, and shaken hands with Venezuela's Bush-bashing president, Hugo Chavez.

At a news conference in Trinidad and Tobago, he jokingly referred to his foreign policy as "Obama-ism" but in a more serious vein, he said that problems cannot be solved by just one country.

"And I think if you start with that approach, then you are inclined to listen and not just talk," he said.

Republican critics, on the other hand, accused Obama of apologizing for American actions.

"The leader of the free world has been a timid advocate of freedom at best," wrote former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an article for National Review.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)