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David Rothkopf

The surprise winners and losers of Barack Obama’s first 100 days

Barack Obama may be a man, it’s true, but the term hardly seems adequate. Look at his poll numbers, the merchandising opportunities, the global fervor. He’s the first feel-good blockbuster of summer. He’s also, in addition, a label, a brand name and a spokesmodel — in each of these cases for both the Obama administration ...


Barack Obama may be a man, it’s true, but the term hardly seems adequate. Look at his poll numbers, the merchandising opportunities, the global fervor. He’s the first feel-good blockbuster of summer. He’s also, in addition, a label, a brand name and a spokesmodel — in each of these cases for both the Obama administration and for the Obama era of which we are now all a part. 

So it hardly seems fair that the avalanche of 100 days insta-history that has been churned out over the past few days covers only Barack the man when it should also cover those who will make his administration and his era…our era… a success or a failure. For this reason, after extensive research and a Sunday morning television induced meditation, I have compiled the following list of the surprise winners and losers of the first 100 days of this epoch of hope and change, this moment defined by the heart-warming story of a scrawny, small town kid from Jakarta, Indonesia with an over-rated outside shot, and a hankering for constitutional law who grew up to become president of these whole damn United States of America.

Foreign Policy Division

The surprise loser thus far is the big man with the big resume, General Jim Jones. He’s the first member of the national security leadership taking periodic friendly fire from members of his own team. For now, these are warning shots suggesting he become more hands on, more engaged, more suited to the demand of what is ultimately a staff job. (See the recent Weekly Standard post on this, which rings true despite its source.) Of course, my sense is that some of the griping is coming from folks who had expected a different national security advisor and are laying the groundwork for that individual’s future arrival. It’s very early yet and the smart and talented Jones certainly has time to pick up his game…and a good place to look if he wants an example how to do it all right thus far is over in Foggy Bottom where the surprise winner of the first 100 days in this division is Hillary Clinton. She was supposed to be the uncontrollable ego, but instead she has turned out to be the team player who is using her star-power to very effectively advance the Obama agenda. 

Border Division

The surprise winner is Mexican President Felipe Calderon who is getting more attention early from the Obama administration than any other head of state in the world. Admittedly, it’s coming because people are worried about drug violence on the border, but that same concern hasn’t helped much the nation’s top official with responsibility for those issues, surprise loser Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano whose department has turned into the Gaffe-topia of the cabinet.

Law Enforcement Division

The surprise losers are those torture-justifying, tortured souls Jay Bybee and John Yoo who one day were happily working as appeals court judge and law professor and the next were being denounced on Capitol Hill and in newspapers across America. But what added the real surprise here was the Olympic gymnastics-worthy flip flop President Obama did on whether people like these two should be prosecuted or not. Of course, the surprise winner in law enforcement over the past three months was someone whose skills could easily have won him a job in the Bush justice department: Paul Blart, mall cop. 

Economic Policy Division

The surprise winner has been Austan Goolsbee, member of the Council of Economic Advisors. Not only has he become the administration’s most telegenic economic spokesperson, a guy with a sense of humor and a way to make the complex accessible, but his campaign “goof” of telling the Canadians Obama really wasn’t going to fiddle with NAFTA too much turned out to be the truth. (Cue Jim Nabors saying “ser-prise, ser-prise, ser-prise.”) Given the times, there are no surprise losers in this division. However…

Wall Street Division

When it comes to America’s financial capital, the surprise winners are the members of last fall’s critical list: Goldman, JP, Citi and B of A, mostly thanks to the world’s first organ donations from live, un-anesthetized patients (us). (The classic definition of chutzpah used to be to murder your parents and seek the mercy of the court as an orphan. No more. Now it is to demand the government give you the freedom to turn world markets into a casino, lose all your money in said casino…and ours…and then demand the government’s money…again, ours…to bail you out…and then after all that, demand the government get out of the way again so you can go back to your old ways.  Or to put it another way…murder your parents and then seek mercy and a new weapon with which to commit your next crime.) The surprise losers? Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke, now accused of urging B of A to keep quiet and follow through on their lousy deal with Merrill Lynch, shareholders and economic consequences for the bank be damned.

Gossip Girl Division

Surprise winner Nelly Yuki gets into Yale while surprise loser Blair Waldorf ends up going to NYU. Oh the ignominy. Nothing goes with that awful, B & T crowd violet they wear down there in the village. (But if anyone has an answer, it’s Dorota…)

Automotive Division

Perhaps the biggest surprise winner of all the surprise winners on this list is Ford CEO Bill Ford who seems to be navigating his eponymous company through the Scylla and Charybdis of recession and stupidity that has bankrupted GM and Chrysler. Meanwhile the surprise loser so far in a situation that is truly a loser-pa-looza is Steve Rattner, the once respected Wall Street golden boy who turns out to have navigated his way to the top on Wall Street while only intermittently making use of an ethical compass.  Wait. Does that really qualify as a surprise?

Trade Division

Here is one about whom I have to admit I may have been dead wrong: the surprise winner, new USTR Ron Kirk. Despite very little trade experience and getting off to an unimpressive start in his confirmation hearings, Kirk has impressed insiders with his political deftness and seems to be steering Obama trade policy away from the sirens lure (More Homeric imagery!!! Thanks Mom and Dad for reading me the Odyssey in Utero!) of the AFL-CIO’s plan to build a big wall around the U.S. and have us all fighting to make it stay 1955 for as long as we can hold out. Surprise loser? Otherwise brilliant Energy Secretary Steven Chu for not so deftly nudging us in the direction of a new era of green protectionism that AFL boss John Sweeney will surely learn to love.

Intelligence Division:

The surprise loser is certainly Jane Harman, reportedly caught on tape offering to swap her influence on behalf of two AIPAC employees accused of spying in exchange for AIPAC’s help securing her a top committee post. The surprise winners are the leakers who no one seems that interested in prosecuting for their felony leaking of national security wiretaps. Making this especially ironic is the fact that they leaked to attempt to keep the heat on the AIPAC duo whose crime was allegedly trafficking in just the same kind of leak. Least surprising element of this: no one involved will ultimately be convicted of anything. 

Minnesota Division:

Alleged comedian Al Franken is the surprise winner. Since it is no surprise that Norm Coleman would behave like a douche throughout this whole process, the surprise losers have to be the people of Minnesota who will go from prolonged non-representation to even more prolonged embarrassing representation no matter what happens.

Media Division:

Nothing says more about the state of America today than the fact that the hands-down surprise winner in this category is a collaboration between Twitter, the “social utility” for an ADD nation that feels if you can’t say it in a sentence fragment it’s not worth saying, and Ashton Kutsher, an alleged actor so devoid of talent he makes Pauly Shore look like Anthony Hopkins. Or that the hands-down loser is the New York Times, the faltering newspaper apparently being dragged down by its dependence on ideas, independent reporting and articles that often run several paragraphs in length and seldom use emoticons. (Well, that and the fact that they concluded it was good business to make it easier to read their content for free than it was to actually pay money for it.)

Literary Division:

The surprise winner here is undoubtedly Eduardo Galeano, author of Open Veins of Latin America, the recently hot-selling polemic that dates back to the days of import substitution and Peter Frampton which gained notoriety when unlikely literary critic Hugo Chavez passed a copy of the book along to Barack Obama. The surprise losers are clearly his readers who having waded into the volume are probably thinking about opening a vein themselves.

Congressional Division:

While it’s tempting to declare it a 435-way tie for loser, this masks some of the real defeats like those of dissembling Wall Street collaborator Chris Dodd, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who managed to forget that she was actually being briefed on torture techniques all along or the agenda-less Republican leadership who could detail their program in a Twitter message and still have 139 words left over. Surprise winners? Well, I’ll give that to Evan Bayh and the centrists in the Senate who dared to stand up against wing-nut America and who, as a consequence, may now be the most influential tiny block of U.S. voters since the Supreme Court circa the year 2000.

Enemies Division:

While all our enemies are surprise winners as Barack Obama practices his golden rule based foreign policy (do on to others as you would have them do on to you…because you don’t have the energy or the resources for any more ground wars at the moment), let’s give the nod for surprise winner to the Taliban. While we begin a quest to find their moderate leadership (offices next to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow), they are measuring the drapes for their new offices in Islamabad. Surprise loser: Kim Jong Il’s body double who, for a while thought he was actually going to get to run North Korea. 

2012 Division:

The surprise loser is Sarah Palin’s entire family whose sad reality-tv-like saga has been declared to be “way too white trash” for the Jerry Springer Show. Surprise winner? Mitt Romney who will ultimately be the Republican Party candidate in 2012 because their one inviolable precept (other than their commitment to the inalienable right of unborn infants to own assault weapons) is that the last election cycle’s hopeless loser is your next election cycle’s seasoned candidate. (See: McCain, Dole, G.H.W. Bush, Reagan, you get the idea.)

NFL Draft Division:

The most surprised loser has got to be crazy-talented Florida star Percy Harvin who fell to 22d in Saturday’s first day of the pro-football draft.  Of course, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that if you (allegedly) showed up with marijuana in your system the day you were being evaluated by scouts it might hurt your chances. But if you are dumb enough to show up stoned for the biggest day of your life it’s likely everything in life is a surprise to you. Surprise winner: hands down the New York Jets who for the first time since the Wagner Administration actually drafted the right guy in likely NFL star and media darling of tomorrow in USC’s Matt Sanchez. 

Sunday Morning Television Division:

David Gregory is no Tim Russert, that’s for sure.  Which is why NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd is the big loser for having lost out to Gregory for the “Meet the Press” job. The big winner, if having to sit next to George Will every Sunday morning can be considered a win, is George Stephanopoulos who is picking up the slack and gradually becoming the Lawrence Spivak of his generation. However, it should be clear to all that these shows are dodos, gradually being made obsolete by the fact that everything they used to do that was unique is done every day of the week on cable news channels…oh, and also because they are stupefyingly boring and that they will soon be replaced by new Twitter newsmaker interviews: “Summers: Economy used to be ball falling off table. Now green shoots. Maybe. Bad stuff could also continue to happen.” Public affairs haikus for the 21st Century.

Have I missed something here? Let us know if you think so.


 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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