President Barack Obama's "first 100 days" draws to a close Wednesday – a traditional moment for evaluating a new administration.
My take: This is a president who wants to accomplish great things, but he also wants to please everyone. As a result, he finds it tough to set priorities.
We're mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and Obama's primary job should be fixing the economy. But he has shown no intention of putting off his expansive agenda. He's forging ahead with his plans. He wants to do everything at once: revamp the health industry, revolutionize the energy economy, reform the schools.
And he continues to peddle the rhetorical non-sequitur that economic recovery absolutely depends on enactment of his entire program – a nonsensical conclusion disputed even by the editorial page of The Washington Post .
On foreign policy, his moves have been more in line with the centrist persona he displayed during his campaign.
In his recent trips abroad, he has shown a grating tendency to apologize for the perceived shortcomings of his own country. But many of his substantive decisions have been reassuring.
He campaigned on a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but as president he approved a plan not much different from that negotiated by the Bush administration. He approved a hefty new deployment of troops to Afghanistan – something that was needed. He authorized the use of deadly force against the pirates holding an American freighter captain.
Domestically, however, Obama seeks to be a transformative president, but at the same time he wants to maintain his centrist pose.
"I strongly believe in a free market system," he said during the recent G-20 confab in London.
Yet his administration has intervened in the economy in ways previously unheard of. His massive stimulus package was the largest spending bill in U.S. history. His Treasury Department has moved ever closer to nationalizing the nation's banks.
Obama has said his administration has "no interest or intention in running GM."
Yet he has fired General Motors' CEO, sacked half the board, authorized federal backing for the company's warranties and presumed to advise its executives on what cars to build.
Obama has portrayed himself as a budget-cutter and says he wants to move the country from "an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest."
Yet the budget he presented calls for a tripling of the national debt and a decade of trillion-dollar deficits.
Obama wants to have it both ways – an impulse that was undoubtedly behind his mishandling of the controversy raised by his release of Bush-era memos on interrogation methods.
First, he told CIA employees that no one would be prosecuted for using the "enhanced" interrogation techniques.
But then, pressured by the left wing of his party, he mused about the need for a "truth commission" to investigate Bush policies, and opened the door to prosecution of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers.
Instantly, Republicans upped the ante. They demanded release of other documents showing the interrogation techniques yielded valuable intelligence. They asked the CIA to release detailed accounts of briefings given to members of Congress on the interrogation methods.
That put House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the bull's-eye. She was privy to the briefings. What did she know and when did she know it? Did she object to the use of waterboarding? Pelosi says she recalls hearing something about waterboarding but can't say whether she was told the technique would be used.
Hogwash, says former Rep. Porter Goss, a Republican. He says the briefers were clear on what the techniques involved. Pelosi, he says, mainly expressed worries about whether the CIA was doing enough to protect the country.
By Thursday, the White House was backing away from the idea of a "truth commission." But Obama's erratic zig-zagging had triggered a free-for-all that has yet to run its course.
It's not likely this will be the last time this president opens up a Pandora's box because of his failure to understand that sometimes you simply can't please everyone.