WASHINGTON-While judging a presidency through its first 100 days is largely a journalistic ploy to grab viewers and readers (see Time cover story, a heavily promoted Washington Post special "100 days" section, and every cable news channel not just on the 100th day but for the past several days), most conservatives agree that the first three-plus months of the Obama administration has been enough time to gauge where the country is headed politically: bigger federal government as the answer to many of the nation's ongoing problems.
And with the recent defection of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to the Democratic Party, giving Democrats a near filibuster-proof majority, the drive for bigger government just got a lot easier for Obama and company.
The president wasted no time signaling this shift when, during his first-ever address to a joint session of Congress in February, he proclaimed: "I reject the view that says your problems will simply take care of themselves-that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity."
But this insistence that the nation's recovery would require significant resources from the federal government had already been backed up by more than mere words. The White House and Congress had already started doling out the money-and lots of it.
On Day 29 in mid-February, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus bill that passed without the support of a single House Republican. Then two days after his joint session speech, Obama delivered a $3.6 trillion budget blueprint to Congress. That was followed in March by a $410 billion omnibus spending measure signed by the president, containing billions in earmarks.
In the face of all of this spending, what has surprised many conservatives is how quick and easy it has been for Obama to enact major changes without many contentious hearings or lengthy floor debates.
"They have used the first 100 days to enact an ambitious agenda," said Michael Franc, vice president of government relations with The Heritage Foundation, "and that change has occurred in a blink of an eye. It is a whole new world."
As worrisome to Franc as the bottom-line dollar figure of recent spending measures are the polices, hidden in these bills, that threaten to undo welfare reform (in the stimulus package) and lay the groundwork for greater government involvement in the nation's health care system (in the budget plan).
Furthermore, according to Franc, change has been enacted without much protest from the moderate wing of the Democratic party, who many expected to show more resistance and force Obama to legislate more from the ideological center.
Indeed, former President Bill Clinton attempted to pass a $25 billion spending bill-a mere fraction of Obama's stimulus package-that stiff opposition reduced to $16 billion. And it still lost. But with the speed of a runaway train, it took Obama less than a month to introduce, pass, and sign his stimulus plan.
There are 1,362 days left in Obama's term, and conservative's observers expect this new big government era to continue to encroach on areas such as health care, energy, and education. In other words, we haven't seen anything yet.
But beyond expanding the nation's purse strings, Obama has also begun to shift polices and put people in places that endanger the sanctity of life and threaten other conservative Christian views. Again it didn't take long to see this trend.
Three days after taking the oath of office, Obama rescinded a George W. Bush policy prohibiting international organizations receiving federal funds from performing abortions. Obama also reversed Bush's ban on federally funded stem cell research. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services has signaled its intention to end a federal regulation protecting medical professionals who decline to perform health procedures they deem ethically, morally, or religiously objectionable.
This week, on his 99th day in office, Obama welcomed former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius, an abortion advocate, came under fire for misstating how much money she had received from a controversial provider of late-term abortions. Despite some grumblings by a few senators, she received more criticism outside of Congress then inside the Senate, where she was confirmed by an easy 65-31 vote.
"Some Republicans have apparently been swayed by the argument that as bad as this appointment is, President Obama would simply come back with someone equally objectionable if her confirmation was denied," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
While polices can be reversed and cabinet officials replaced in future administrations, Obama's push to remake the nation's federal courts is expected to leave a longer-lasting stamp on the federal government's view of issues such as abortion, marriage, and religious freedoms. His first appeals court nominee, David Hamilton, has struck down abortion informed-consent and counseling laws as well as ruled against a state legislature's daily use of prayer.
All of this has come while the media have given President Obama more coverage than Bush and Clinton combined, and more positive coverage than either received at this point in their presidencies. This from a Center for Media and Public Affairs study that found that nightly newscasts spent almost 28 hours on Obama's first 50 days compared with eight hours for Bush in his first 50 days. Meanwhile, the study found that 58 percent of those reports on Obama where positive compared with 33 percent positive for Bush and 44 percent positive for Clinton during their first days.
Beyond hope, Obama made bipartisanship a major message of his campaign. But, according to the Pew Research Center, early signs show that Obama has "the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades." A Washington Post poll found that, while 93 percent of Democrats support Obama's actions just 36 percent of Republicans do.
Some of those disgruntled conservatives-nearly a half a million of them-recently took to the nation's streets in protest of Obama's tax and spending polices.
This polarization may only get worse, conservatives say, as Obama and the Democratic-led Congress continue to attempt to spend their way out of the nation's problems.