By E. Thomas McClanahan
President Obama's first 100 days draw to a close today, a traditional moment for evaluating a new administration. My take: He wants to accomplish great things but also please everyone. As a result, he finds it tough to set priorities.
We're mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and Obama's primary job should be fixing the economy. But he has shown no intention of putting off his expansive agenda: revamp the health industry, revolutionize the energy economy, reform the schools.
And he continues to peddle the non sequitur that economic recovery depends on his entire program - a conclusion disputed even by the Washington Post's editorial page.
On foreign policy, his moves have been more in line with the centrist persona he displayed during his campaign. He has shown a grating tendency to apologize for the perceived shortcomings of his own country. But many of his substantive decisions have been reassuring.
He approved an Iraq plan not much different from Bush's, a needed deployment of troops to Afghanistan, and the use of deadly force against pirates holding an American freighter captain.
Domestically, Obama seeks to be a transformative president but maintain his centrist pose. "I strongly believe in a free-market system," he said during the recent G-20 confab. Yet his administration has intervened in the economy in ways previously unheard of.
Obama has said his administration has "no interest or intention in running GM." Yet he has fired General Motors' CEO and authorized federal backing of its warranties.
Obama has portrayed himself as a budget-cutter. Yet his budget calls for a tripling of the national debt and a decade of trillion-dollar deficits.
Obama wants to have it both ways - an impulse undoubtedly behind his mishandling of the Bush-era memos on interrogation methods. First he said no one would be prosecuted for "enhanced interrogation techniques." Then he mused about a "truth commission" and opened the door to prosecution of Bush administration lawyers.
Republicans demanded the release of documents showing that the interrogation techniques yielded valuable intelligence and of detailed accounts of briefings to members of Congress. That put House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the bull's eye. She was privy to the briefings. What did she know, and when did she know it? Did she object to the use of waterboarding?
Pelosi says she recalls something about waterboarding but can't say whether she was told the technique would be used. Former CIA Director Porter Goss says the briefers were clear. Pelosi, he says, mainly expressed worries about whether the CIA was doing enough to protect the country.
By Thursday, the White House was backing away from the idea of a "truth commission." But Obama's zigzagging had triggered a free-for-all that has yet to run its course. It's not likely this will be the last time he opens up a Pandora's box by failing to understand that sometimes you simply can't please everyone.