Is Obama Doing Too Much Too Soon?

Obama has tackled numerous issues in his first 50 days as president.

March 10, 2009, 4:29 PM

March 10, 2009— -- It was just five months ago that President Obama, the then-junior senator from Illinois was rallying across the country, campaigning for one of the world's most influential seats. But those days seem long gone.

The president has been a whirling dervish of activity ever since he took the oath of office seven weeks ago, nominating his Cabinet members just minutes after inauguration.

In his first 50 days, Obama has taken action on practically every policy issue under the sun -- economy, education, health care, national security, the list goes on. You might take issue with what he's trying to do, but you can't accuse the president of dragging his heels.

But while the administration says the issues Obama faces, particularly the economy, need swift action, his critics warn he may be doing too much too soon.

This morning, Obama made his first speech dedicated solely to education, a topic he spoke passionately about during his presidential campaign.

"It's time to give all Americans a complete and competitive education from the cradle up through a career. We've accepted failure for far too long. Enough is enough," the president said to applause at a meeting of The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "America's entire education system must once more be the envy of the world -- and that's exactly what we intend to do."

Of course, the economy has been the dominant focus. Even before assuming office, Obama took steps on the issue. He asked President Bush in early January to work to release the second $350 billion in federal bailout funds to help stabilize the financial system.

Since then, he has pushed the massive $787 billion stimulus package, the largest of its kind in the history of United States, and one that the president insists is necessary to avert catastrophe.

"Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles," Obama said when signing the bill at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "Nor does it constitute all of what we must do to turn our economy around. But it does mark the beginning of the end -- the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs; to provide relief for families worried they won't be able to pay next month's bills; and to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long-term growth and prosperity."

And he's continued to tout the benefits of the plan.

"Within our first 30 days in office, we passed the most sweeping economic recovery package in history, to create or save 3.5 million new jobs, provide relief to struggling families, and lay the foundation for long-term growth and prosperity," the president said.

In other economic plans, Obama has discussed $275 billion in programs to prevent up to 9 million home foreclosures, plans to free up credit -- including a $1 trillion consumer and business lending initiative -- and he has unveiled a $3.6 trillion budget for 2010 while at least talking about reducing the deficit.

Outside of education and economy, Obama has moved quickly to reverse Bush-era policies and decisions. He signed a law to provide health insurance to an additional 4 million uninsured children, lifted the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, signed executive orders closing the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay and to close CIA detention centers globally, and revised interrogation techniques.

He announced a timeline to end the U.S. troop presence in Iraq -- albeit not as quickly as promised in the campaign -- and approved 17,000 new troops to Afghanistan, while kick starting diplomatic relations with Russia, Iran and Syria.

Historically, how does all this activity measure up to previous presidents?

"We won't know for some time, qualitatively, Quantitatively, you would have to call it Rooseveltian," said historian Richard Norton Smith.

Even though he's earned praise for acting quickly on pertinent issues, some question Obama's attempt to do so much at once and whether tackling so many issues could result in policies that are undercooked.

"Presidents have many problems to solve, but no one ever suggested that the wisest course is to try to solve them all at once," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said on the Senate floor Monday.

"I think we have to be careful, not overload the economy," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "Our thrust should be turning the economy around, and we do that through banks, getting people back to work."

Of course, many take issue with the substance of these plans, saying that the president is spending too much and getting too little bang for the buck. Democratic economist Mark Zandi told House Democrats today that the stimulus package will likely result in 1 million fewer jobs created than the 3.5 million jobs the administration predicted.

For his part, Obama doesn't look like he is backing down soon. He had made it clear, even before winning the presidency, that it's important for the commander in chief to present himself to the American people.

"It is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once," he said in Florida in September.

"I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time," Obama stated today. "They forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad, passed the Homestead Act, and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of Civil War. Likewise, President Roosevelt didn't have the luxury of choosing between ending a Depression and fighting a war. President Kennedy didn't have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon. And we don't have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term."