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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 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.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf

The axis of stability

At my summer camp in Maine -- which was really the equivalent of that South Pacific manhood ritual where they attach vines to a teenaged boy's testicles and throw him off a tree -- on the very first day they would gather all the new campers around and teach them the camp song. It was entitled "Oh, Camp We Love" and, as the budding concentration camp guards they called counselors used to point out, "it's sung to the same tune as the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada.'" Naturally, this generated confusion and blank stares from all the boys present because the comment was roughly as helpful as suggesting the camp talent show utilize the same narrative technique as The Tale of Genji. I mean, for goodness sake, we were from New Jersey. We knew Canada was up there somewhere between Boston and the North Pole and that they played hockey there, but beyond that, details were scarce.

Since then, throughout my life, I have always found that when giving a talk, a reference to Canada is reliably good for a laugh. Making fun of Canada seldom offends any American and Canadians tend to be too polite to object. And it it's funny because Canada is so darned unthreatening, bland enough to make your average bowl of tapioca seem muy caliente. (The only thing more boring than Canada? Coldplay. "Viva la vida?!" Seriously. Viva la sominex.) Of course, I'm not the only one who has gone after Canada. Take for example the greatest song ever written about international relations, "Blame Canada." (Which song clearly kicks the ass of anything Coldplay has ever written. Of course, so too does anything ever done by that immortal Canadian-Egyptian-Armenian, Raffi.)

It's all a bit unfair actually. A lot unfair. And I was thinking this as I was watching President Obama's press conference with Prime Minister Harper. Harper's year has been as politically star-crossed as Obama's has been seemingly guided by a lucky star. But together yesterday, these two were the picture of what good allies should be. They were polite, respectful, at times deferential, honest about areas of concern and seemingly sincere in their desire to work through potential trouble spots whether they be sclerotic border crossings or the potential for turbulence on trade. Both were gracious, articulate, and statesmanlike.

The U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue they announced was an excellent step to strengthen an already rock-solid relationship by collaborating on an issue where common interests abound.

During the news conference held by Harper and Obama, each of the men warmly characterized the state of the relationship between the two countries. Framing his remarks in the context of Obama's ascendancy to office, Harper said:

His election to the presidency launches a new chapter in the rich history of Canada-U.S. relations. It is a relationship between allies, partners, neighbors, and the closest of friends; a relationship built on our shared values -- freedom, democracy, and equality of opportunity epitomized by the President himself."

Obama, speaking next said:

I came to Canada on my first trip as President to underscore the closeness and importance of the relationship between our two nations, and to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to work with friends and partners to meet the common challenges of our time. As neighbors, we are so closely linked that sometimes we may have a tendency to take our relationship for granted, but the very success of our friendship throughout history demands that we renew and deepen our cooperation here in the 21st century.

"We're joined together," he continued, "by the world's largest trading relationship and countless daily interactions that keep our borders open and secure. We share core democratic values and a commitment to work on behalf of peace, prosperity, and human rights around the world."

Usually such words exchanged between political leaders are empty rhetoric. But, in the case of the U.S. and Canada, even with the ups and downs the relationship has been through, they ring true.

It underscored a reality that doesn't earn magazine covers in the way problems such as those highlighted in FP's Axis of Upheaval do. It is natural to focus on problems and threats. But throughout human history and especially in the current era, instability and failed states are really "dog bites man." 

What is rare, exceptional really, are the cases of the special relationships, the alliances that transcend treaties and become true and enduring partnerships. In many of the most important elements of life and foreign policy, boring is good. Boring is the foundation that allows us to stand the upheaval. Boring is constant in an inconstant world and as such is indispensable and invaluable. (The very best marriages for similar reasons, are sometimes perceived as boring. My wife for example, likes both Canada and Coldplay very much. Come to think of it, I'd probably better move on to the next thought...)

I would go further, it may well be that among the relationships of neighboring states, particularly among comparatively powerful neighbors, the U.S.-Canada relationship may be unique in history.  Oh sure, once, long ago, we had that little "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" issue, but that was with the British and frankly with all that manifest destiny testosterone pulsing through our then adolescent veins we were bound to get into trouble with anyone we encountered.

To put it into context, go through history in your mind. Pick two neighbors anywhere. Now find a pair that have gotten along better, avoided war (save for the conflicts depicted in "Canadian Bacon" and that in the aforementioned classic "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.")

Go further, in the vein of my post last week on America's worst alliances, make a list of America's best alliances. Canada tops the list so easily that it is hard to find anyone else that is close. There's the United Kingdom, of course, but we did get off to a bit of a rocky start with them and there was that pesky War of 1812 and they were, despite being officially neutral, not entirely constructive during the Civil War.

And then the next best ally? Ah, while the choices are few they are so tempting. Readership-baiting is so gratifying. (Really, you guys are so easy to toy with. It's like having a dog that always goes after the stick.) I guess the next best ally we have had is Israel. (There, I've said it. Come on all you "realists" time to line up and give it your best shot. I'll even provide your first line for you: "Some of my best friends are Jews, but...") Or, offering the kind of paradox that makes such analyses so much fun (and explains everything about our relationship with the French) perhaps number three is actually France. Ah, this really is too enjoyable.

I think I will stop writing and just warmly contemplate your reactions out there in Wonkavia, land of the Foreign Policy geeks. (And congratulate myself for having gotten through an entire piece about Canada without a single joke about Celine Dion.)

DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images