University of Southern California

A for Effort and E for Equilibrium?
Joint Marshall - Gould School "Grading Obama's First 100 Days" Event Found First Days a Mixed Bag of Good Public Approval
April 29, 2009 • by News at Marshall

Even before the 100-day mark, the results of President Barack Obama’s first three months in office have already been debated, scrutinized and closely examined.

On April 21, a lunch time discussion presented by the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Gould School of Law provided an audience of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of USC with an opportunity to hear first hand from distinguished academics exactly how they analyzed what he's done so far.

Three top law, business and political professors, including Kareem Crayton, a law and politics expert; Rebecca Brown, a constitutional law scholar, and John Matsusaka, who covers the economy and California politics, discussed the measures Obama has taken to improve the economy, discussed public perception of his presidency and speculated on his picks for judges, especially in the U.S. Circuit Courts.

Crayton discussed the public mood and external and objective indicators for Obama's performance. "Image is often symbolic and in many ways can frame how we should feel about a president," he said, citing a Pew Center opinion poll that showed a 59 percent approval rating for Obama overall at this point in his presidency. Looking at the polls, "He's doing pretty well on average," Crayton added.

Many believe the key to Obama's success or failure is the economy, or more specifically aiding economic recovery.

Both Crayton and Matsusaka noted during their remarks that while a president has little that he can do about the economy, the public perception is that he can.

"The president has only limited ability to impact the economy, there's also congress, the Federal Reserve, states and cities - but there's the perception that a president can come in and make us rich or poor," said Matsusaka, during his remarks.

While Obama has created a set of stimulus and other spending and continued bailouts of companies that were set in motion during the last administration, it's unclear what exactly will solve the economic crisis, said Matsusaka. So far the nation has committed $700 billion to bailout spending and has  a $1.2 trillion deficit.

"If you look for research in macro economics about stimulus spending you won’t find very much. We don't know this amount will work," said Matsusaka, adding that while New Deal spending was thought to get the country out of the Great Depression, it's now considered to be more legend than actual fact.

Overall, Matsusaka said that the president's first days showed more of a keeping of political equilibrium than the creation of a change-oriented economic policy.

"The president operates within a political system and the rules of that system haven't been repealed - there are limited degrees of freedom that anyone has. Politicians pay attention to what the voters want - they have to respond for better or worse. I would say we'd have almost the same type of program whether or not he won – it's political equilibrium," he said.

Obama may also have an eye on achieving political equilibrium in another area: with court appointments, speculated Brown, especially in the U.S. circuit courts. During the Bush administration the courts moved to the political right and during the first days of his administration Obama has moved to appoint moderate Democrats to the most conservative-leaning courts, starting with the Fourth Circuit, she noted.

"He's being pragmatic and moderate," said Brown. "His selections have been through senate confirmation before and their not radical candidates. It's too small a sample to be sure about his view on diversity and it doesn't say much about a swing to the left as all three of his nominations are centrist. It's a model of what you might expect - nothing that will rock the boat but will shift the balance of control."

Brown also discussed the president's interpretation of the rule of law including his decision to close the detainee prison at Guantanamo, decline the category of enemy combatant, charge detainees with a crime rather than hold them and pledging to end torture, among other actions.

"He's doing a pretty good job because everyone is so mad at him," Brown said, ending her remarks.


About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.