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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Speakers grade Obama on first 100 days

Published: April 24, 2009
Section: News

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Gallery: Obama, the first 100 days

Economist Dr. Gregg Mankiw, Ambassador Charles Dunbar and Dr. Stuart Altman gathered at Brandeis University last night to discus President Barack Obama’s progress in the economy, international relations and healthcare reform during his first 100 days in office.

The discussion was moderated by Prof. Peniel Joseph (AAAS), who explained to the crowd of over 180 community members that the tradition of discussing a president’s first 100 days in office began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 when he started the New Deal.

Joseph mentioned that Obama, who will reach his 100th day on Apr. 29, like Roosevelt, faces an extremely complex financial crisis in his first 100 days in office.

Mankiw, who is a professor of economics at Harvard University and former Chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that the Obama administration faces a crisis with four key elements—the housing bubble, securitization, bank failures, and the leveraging and borrowing previously done by banks.

Mankiw said that the nation was caught off guard by the financial crisis because “we hadn’t thought to ask what happens if house prices fall.”

“It hadn’t happened in a long time, since the 1930s in America, and when it had happened globally it was far away, like Japan in the 1990’s.” he said.

Mankiw said that Obama has been using three methods to fix the financial crisis, attempting to use financial, monetary and fiscal stimulation to alleviate the recession.

He continued to say that Obama’s fiscal stimulus package has come under the most criticism because the public is worried about whether or not it will raise spending.

While the Obama administration’s forecast for how the nation will bounce back from the recession is “too rosy” for Mankiw’s taste, he did say that “it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but this is no 1930s.”

Dunbar, who spoke about the nation’s foreign policy, said that while he realizes that “given our current financial crisis, economic policy comes first,” he believes that the Obama administration has taken many steps in the right direction in terms of foreign relations.

He continued to say that a lot of the steps Obama has taken have been purely rhetorical, but that they have still been meaningful, citing Obama giving his first television interview to the Arab network Al Arabia.

“That was a very smart move on his part,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything policy-wise, but it creates a warm and fuzzy sort of atmosphere for future negotiations.”

Dunbar did say, however, that Obama’s preliminary talks with Cuba have signaled a “new beginning” that could manifest itself into substantial change.

Dunbar also said that in the coming years, Obama would have to prove to the national community that “he’s tough enough and can knock heads.”

Altman, who helped write Obama’s healthcare plan, said that Obama’s health care reform plan seeks to provide universal coverage while decreasing the growth in spending and increasing the quality of care by filling in the holes between private and public health insurance.

Altman said that Obama’s plan, for the most part, mimics the Massachusetts health care plan that Governor Deval Patrick has implemented.

Altman said he was worried about whether or not the plan would pass through congress, however, because while Obama is advocating that the government “put off the debate on controlling spending until everyone has coverage, Washington wants him to reduce spending now.”

All three panelists agreed that while Obama has made some changes, it is still too early to really define his presidency.

As Dunbar said at the beginning of his talk, “100 days does not a presidency make.”