Barack of the Hundred Days 

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I'm often surprised by how much more familiar the world is with American politics than vice-versa; so often, in fact, that I'm actually not surprised that the best package on President Obama's first 100 days in office comes from London's liberal rag the Guardian. A handsome interactive feature linking to their day-by-day coverage of American politics, with fresh nut-graf overviews from a foreign perspective, it's comprehensive — even a bit wonkish — and fun to use. Time, meanwhile, has single-paragraph report cards for key administration figures, because the American public is to be talked down to.

The Guardian package doesn't really address the artificiality of the 100 Days benchmark; here, though, a tone of apology pervades the stock-taking. The Wall Street Journal's coverage begins by justifying its existence; Slate's meta-coverage gets to play along with the story by questioning its validity as news. Fair enough: any self-respecting journalist might feel a little guilty over the column inches devoted to what is, after all, a pseudo-event. Politico, meanwhile, embraces the idea of the pseudo-event wholeheartedly with their Next 100 Days feature — if we keep inventing milestones for people to look forward to, their logic seems to run, then we can keep people as interested in governance as they were in the election. Anything for pageviews; news outlets are as intent on "winning the cycle" as politicians are.

Paradoxically, though, 100 Days retrospectives might be a useful counterpoint to all this spin-cycling, inasmuch as they return the focus, eventually, to concrete discussions of policy and outlook.

As such the Times, as usual, is quite useful, providing a fairly comprehensive list of achievements from a reasonable, liberal perspective. The big takeaway is Obama's big plans for domestic policy, particularly healthcare and energy, despite the obligations he's inherited — two wars we're losing, a legacy of torture, and a financial system that doesn't deserve to be fixed but needs to be fixed anyway, because shit rolls downhill — and the strain involved in fixing them (both because they're not easy problems to solve and because of the ideological contortions necessary when cleaning up a political opponent's mess).

From the slants of competing 100 Days coverage, we can also get a handy stop-and-take-a-breath snapshot of the state of political discourse in America right now.

Inevitably the populist right has little new to offer except shrill, borderline offensive nonsequiturs, and the intellectual right has little to offer except old ideas that really did not go over so well last time, as it turns out. (Meanwhile, punctuating the day a bit, Arlen Specter's party switch tends to underscore the narrowing of the G.O.P. base.)

And, equally inevitably, liberals sulk following the prolonged reminder that politics really is the art of the possible, while the cap-L Left struggles to gain traction in the national discussion. A bit Sisyphusianically, one suspects.

Nobody, in other words, thinks they're winning, even as major legislation is passed at a swift clip, with persistent moderation from Blue Dog Dems and active opposition from Republicans. For a pretty good snapshot of how Washington is working these days, see Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of budget director Peter Orszag (special bonus coverage of how big an asshole Larry Summers is!), and the negotiations over Obama's budget and healthcare plans, with its ambitious goals and uncertainty over future deficits. No one seems to know what will happen next.

And finally, we learn that everybody loves a slideshow. Alas, I haven't been able to find any fan fiction on Obama's First 100 Nights in Office. But I'm sure it's out there.

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