Obama Emphasizes Sharp Departures From Bush Policies
Thursday, April 30, 2009
One hundred days into his term, President Obama used a pair of public events Wednesday to chart how far he has steered the country from the course set by the Bush administration, saying, "We are off to a good start, but it is just a start."
Capitalizing on the heightened public attention surrounding the milestone, Obama said his early achievements include setting a timeline to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq -- a war he inherited from President George W. Bush -- and moving quickly to remake an economy suffering as a result of irresponsible borrowing during Bush's tenure.
But his most pointed comments during a day that included a prime-time news conference at the White House and a town-hall forum in Missouri involved his decision to ban waterboarding and other abusive interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration for use against terrorism suspects.
Last night, Obama flatly called those techniques "torture" and said the practice "corrodes the character of a country."
He said the "public justification" of those methods, including assertions by former vice president Richard B. Cheney that they helped save American lives, "doesn't answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?"
"This is a decision that I'm very comfortable with," Obama said. "And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy."
Obama appeared relaxed and reflective throughout the news conference, the third of his presidency, and he struck a reassuring tone on issues as diverse as the widening swine flu crisis and the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. With nearly seven in 10 Americans approving of his performance, according to polling, Obama spoke more personally than he has before on issues such as abortion and the surprises he has encountered since taking office.
He said he is encouraged that two large U.S. carmakers will remain in business. He said he is "confident" that Pakistan's military has a secure hold on its nuclear arsenal even as he acknowledged that he is "gravely concerned" about the stability of that country's government in the face of Taliban gains. And twice he detailed the precautions people should take to avoid exposure to swine flu -- wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, don't go to work if you feel sick.
"I know it sounds trivial," Obama said, "but it makes a huge difference."
Obama spent his 100th day in office in much the same way he spent the previous 99 -- in the public eye. He began the day welcoming Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, bringing it closer to a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, and ended it with the news conference.
In between, Obama traveled to Missouri, a state he narrowly lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in last year's election. At a boisterous town-hall meeting in Arnold, a distant suburb of St. Louis, Obama said, "We have begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and we've begun the work of remaking America."
"I'm pleased with the progress we've made, but I'm not satisfied," Obama told the cheering crowd at Fox Senior High School. "I'm confident in the future, but I'm not content with the present."