Action will count in first 100 days, not specifics, says Alter

December 2, 2008

Jonathan Alter and Alex S. Jones.

Jonathan Alter and Alex S. Jones.

December 2, 2008 — In his Shorenstein Center brown-bag discussion, “The First 100 Days,” Jonathan Alter, columnist for Newsweek magazine, said that Barack Obama is optimally positioned to succeed. The transition comes at an opportune time, Alter said, because the president-elect can use the recent economic bailout as leverage when working with Congress. “If it’s good enough for greedy bankers, it’s good enough for needy Americans,” Alter said.

The columnist noted that historically “whoever captures the new media of the day” has benefited in the political race. Franklin D. Roosevelt employed the radio, John F. Kennedy seized on television, and “Obama has mastered the Internet.” Alter is unconcerned about the invective still being hurled at Obama by some in the right-wing media. “Talk radio is so 1990s,” he quipped.

After comparing the challenges facing the Obama administration to those FDR had to tackle during the Depression, Alter said Obama should focus on taking action. “The specifics of that action are not as important as the idea of action,” said Alter, and action will inspire confidence in the American people and drive out “paralyzing fear.”

When Alter was asked by Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos, an IOP fellow this semester, what a Democrat is now, Alter defined them as having “a little ‘d’: grassroots-oriented thinking, environmentally focused.” These characteristics were demonstrated in Obama’s stated goals for his presidency: To end the Iraq war, reform health care, and transition to a green economy. The economic boost will be the result of improved government programs, not the focus of it.

While Obama’s governmental experience has been widely debated, Alter is confident that the president-elect’s Chicago political experience will serve him well: “The cauldron of Chicago politics is very useful… You do not survive in that snake pit if you don’t have political chops.”

This article was written by Janell Sims and the photo taken by Leighton Walter Kille, both of the Shorenstein Center.