Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, US presidents have been closely observed for the accomplishments of their first 100 days. And there's also the idea of the honeymoon period, in which the folks who yesterday thought this fellow's the biggest twerp walking now find some of his good qualities. Which they forget soon enough, or at least claim they were fooled.
President Obama will have a honeymoon period, and he may even have a "Hundred Days." But this honeymoon, too, will end, and badly. For one, much of the hopes and dreams hung on him present impossible challenges. He's not going to reverse global warming, whose existence is an open question anyway. The pledges of a different kind of politics will run smack into the regular old politics and will either get creamed or show themselves as not so new and different after all.
He won't be able to solve the nation's current credit and economic crisis -- for one, his government will be saddled with actually paying for the $700 billion bailout package just approved, and that won't leave a ton of money laying around. For another, he supports taxation policies that will not encourage economic growth. To be fair, a President McCain would probably not have actually fixed things, but might have waited them out without doing anything to make them worse.
Although he's capable of an inspirational speech, Obama has a short track record of executive experience, and even that short record isn't stellar. He directed the Chicago schools' Annenberg Challenge, and wound up spending $160 million on some pilot schools that ended up not all that different from the rest of the schools in Chicago. In his party's Congressional leadership, he's saddled with two of the least of modern politics' lesser lights in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. These two, confronted with a President whose popularity ratings are among the lowest on record, couldn't get anything done except drive their own numbers lower than his. Obama will not be helped by their inabilities.
If the economic crisis limps along in its current "I'm not dead yet!" mode, then voter anger at the economic situation might stay somewhat banked. If it gets worse, then 2010 may find us in a "Throw the bums out!" mood similar to 1994, raising the possibility that President Obama will faces at least one house of Congress under the management of the other party. Whatever he's been able to do up until that time will dry to a trickle as his opponents do their best to get their own work done and weaken Obama prior to 2012. Also, at about that time, he will begin to see the signs of a serious primary challenge from within his own party, by which I mean Hillary Clinton. Obama's ineffectiveness in office will probably convince her to do what she wants to do anyway, which is pull alongside him, fire a broadside and send him under the political waves. Clinton has said she doesn't intend to run again, but if you believe that, then you believed Obama would accept public financing when he said he would.
If she does run and she starts in 2010, then she has two years of being able to work the Democratic party with the idea that while the fellow they've elected may not be a bad man, he's not a very good wizard, and the GOP is not going to make the mistake again of nominating someone who sometimes seemed only vaguely Republican. She won't go after him unless she thinks he's weak enough to beat, which she may or may not misjudge. Obama's weakness plus a possibly resurgent GOP, combined with the Clinton organization and what I believe is almost certain to be a record of indifferent achievement unmatched since Jimmy Carter, will leave Obama very vulnerable within his own party.
Clinton may not run, but I think she will. Obama may survive the primary challenge, but if he does he will be even more weakened and have the pleasure of facing any one of several strong GOP nominees. When George Bush won in 2004, many of my fellow Democrats who supported Kerry did things like take pictures of themselves saying "I'm sorry" and put it on a website to let the world know how badly they thought we messed up. Because they spent so much time in that mode, they wound up with an untested nominee who will go off like a stinkbomb once he actually begins to work at the job.
Republicans won't do that. They'll sleep off the hangovers on Nov. 5, lament some on Nov. 6 and go to work on 2010 and 2012 by Nov. 7. Governor Sarah Palin, this time with six years of running her state on her resume instead of two, might show up again. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana will also have six years of gubernatorial experience if he decides it's time to file. If his handling of this summer's hurricane problems is any indicator, he's going to have a pretty good track record to run on. If Mitt Romney decides to try again, his business experience will give him a whole lot of credibility when he talks economics, and, as I said earlier, Obama's policies are unlikely to fix the economic mess we're in now.
Whichever GOP nominee finishes first will have as a central campaign theme, "We told you so." Palin, obviously, could hammer that home hardest, but it'll be available for all, including, I imagine, Senator Clinton. I do not think Obama will win a second term, but if he somehow manages to do so, he will likely face a Congress with even larger GOP numbers, if not outright control. If that is the case, the indifferent achievement record of his first term is probably going to seem Jeffersonian compared with his second.