Given all the hoopla and high expectations surrounding the new president, it's easy to overlook how he has shifted since the election in both tone and substance.
As we approach the 100-day mark of his presidency, Barack Obama has broken or bent many tenets of his campaign, including promises on war, spending and good government.
In terms of tone, Obama promised to be a hope-filled change agent who could fix our politics and "heal a nation." He would do it by refusing to appoint lobbyists to his administration, increasing transparency in government, and forging new bipartisan consensus. His campaign promised to strengthen government checks and balances by limiting the use of presidential signing statements, mandating public review of legislation, and vetoing wasteful congressional earmarks. Yet none of those promises survived his first 100 days.
Even before he was sworn in, Obama picked several lobbyists for top administration jobs, including major cabinet deputy secretaries. When challenged to explain and produce the waivers that permitted those nominations, the administration dragged its feet, bending only after embarrassing questions from the White House press corps.
The promise-breaking did not stop with the inauguration. Soon after he was sworn in, the president signed an earmark-laden spending bill with virtually no bipartisan support or public review - and then promptly issued a signing statement.
The speed and ease with which Obama broke his promises for a new politics are only eclipsed by his policy shifts since taking office. But whereas his good-government reversals have consistently trended toward politics-as-usual, his policy reversals go both ways.
Some shifts are decidedly conservative, like his new Iraq policy, which looks strikingly similar to the one he inherited from President George W. Bush. Gone is Obama's promise to remove all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Instead, Obama is embracing a conditions-based withdrawal that would leave up to 50,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2011.
Similarly, Obama is showing a greater openness to free trade than he ever did on the campaign trail. Campaigning in Pennsylvania a year ago, Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA if elected president, and opposed new free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea. But now, the Administration says Obama has no plans to reopen NAFTA and is pushing Congress to ratify the trade agreements.
That's not to say that Obama is proving to be a conservative. Most of Obama's policy shifts since winning the election are decidedly liberal, especially on issues of taxes, spending and borrowing.
During the campaign, Obama portrayed himself as a fiscal hawk, promising to cut taxes for most taxpayers while simultaneously putting our nation on a path toward fiscal responsibility with "a net spending cut." That would require making hard budgeting choices - which Obama has yet to do. Instead, Obama's budget would double the national debt over the next five years and triple it in 10. Similarly, his signature middle-class tax cuts expire in just two years, while his promises to cut taxes for small businesses are postponed until after his term in office.
Given the gravity of our nation's challenges, Obama can be forgiven for occasionally prioritizing pragmatism over political pledges. But the speed and scope of his promise-breaking in the first 100 days should not be ignored amid the general excitement surrounding the new president.
Look beneath the soaring rhetoric and it is clear Obama's presidency is off to a rocky start. He has consistently capitulated on the substantive issues that brought him into the office, eroding his credibility with many observers and making him appear more like a typical politician.
Hopefully, his new positions will lead us toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. But if victory is elusive overseas and recovery is slow at home, voters will become more skeptical of his future promises.