Some things are better after 100 days. Cheese. Caterpillars. Barack Obama.
He started off with such high hopes and grave problems that it was only logical to assume he had no place to go but down.
It hasn't turned out that way. He wrapped up his 100th day in office Wednesday with a town hall meeting in the morning and a news conference in the evening that showed what his first months in office have demonstrated: a remarkable degree of command and self-assurance, especially from someone who less than four and a half years ago was a state senator.
Answering reporters' questions for nearly an hour in the East Room of the White House, he showed what has become his trademark cool and calm no matter whether the question was about torture, the auto industry, Pakistan, Iraq, abortion, immigration, black unemployment or the flu.
At one point, he even encapsulated his personal philosophy: "Things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem." Which is a pretty good working definition of keeping cool.
While it is hard to imagine there is anyone in this country who is not at least a little bit tired of all the 100-day coverage, Obama himself does not seem to suffer from overexposure. At a town hall meeting in Arnold, Mo., Wednesday morning, Obama said, "So, you know, when you see those of you who are watching certain news channels ... on which I'm not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around ... ."
But though there are networks where Obama is not very popular, an astonishing number of actual people like him just fine. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that was taken April 23-26, an incredible 81 percent of adults in America said they liked Obama personally. According to the poll, "51 percent like him personally and approve of most of his policies, and another 30 percent like him personally but disapprove of his policies."
Got that? Nearly a third of those people who disapprove of what Obama is doing still like Obama! I wish I could get that deal. Everybody wishes they could get that deal.
A.A. Gill, a contributing writer for Vanity Fair and The Sunday Times of London, wrote in an op-ed piece on April 4 in The New York Times, "Mr. Obama is the only popular politician left in the world."
Well, that was quick.
But even allowing for what the Roman philosopher Seneca said "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" Obama also has had some luck in his first 100 days. His decision to authorize the shooting of three Somali pirates who were holding an American sea captain hostage was a success for Obama, but that is because the captain survived. If he had not and it was a close thing Obama might have been accused of being hasty and reckless.
What else has he been lucky with? His enemies. There is nobody on the Republican stage right now except Dick Cheney, and who could have a better enemy than that? (The behavior of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele can best be understood if one assumes he is a Democratic mole.)
And just when Obama's own party seemed to be turning on him because of his lack of enthusiasm for a torture commission, let alone a torture prosecutor, and just when torture began dominating the news cycle day after day, what happens? A flu epidemic! And then Arlen Specter! And then Obama's much-awaited 100-day anniversary. Today, torture just seems so yesterday. (Though yesterdays sometimes come back as tomorrows.)
"I'm not a miracle worker," Obama said Wednesday. And he is not. Nor is he perfect.
On Tuesday, Obama's agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, took to the airwaves to tell the media to stop calling the new flu epidemic "swine flu" because this was damaging U.S. pork producers. "This really isn't swine (flu), it's H1N1 virus," Vilsack said. "And it is significant because there are a lot of hardworking families whose livelihood depends on us conveying this message."
But Wednesday morning, Obama stood up in Arnold, Mo., and said, "I mean, right now everybody is concerned about the swine flu, and properly so."
Hey, Mr. President, get on message! Eight and a half hours later, however, at his news conference, Obama got it right and spoke of the "H1N1 flu virus."
See? He improves with time.