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Milk the Drama, Obama

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 30, 2009

There must have been 50 ways to celebrate the 100 days.

Hop on the plane, Barack Hussein.

Let the words flow, Joe.

Go out and be glib, Gibbs.

Get yourself on TV.

Try some oratory, Harry.

No need to be fancy, Nancy.

Just do MSNBC, Valerie.

The airtime is free.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had it right when he said the inevitable observance of President Obama's first 100 days in office would be a "Hallmark holiday." But that doesn't mean the White House was discouraging anybody from buying cards and flowers to mark the occasion.

The president went to Missouri yesterday to celebrate his 100th day, then returned to the White House for a prime-time news conference. Vice President Biden hosted a 100-day teleconference for reporters, while a full ensemble of administration officials -- Rahm Emanuel, Gibbs, Valerie Jarrett, Tom Vilsack, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee and others -- broadcast their 100-day thoughts.

And why not? With cable news going wall-to-wall with 100-days coverage, and at least one daily newspaper (we won't name names) printing a special 100-days section, it was a publicity bonanza for the young administration. And there was clearly no need to be coy, Roy.

"You kind of shrugged off the 100 days as a media creation," Reuters's Caren Bohan reminded Gibbs aboard Air Force One as the president flew to his 100-days commemoration in Arnold, Mo. "But despite your view that it's an artificial day, you are marking it with a town hall and a trip and a news conference tonight."

"We're playing along with the game," Gibbs replied.

"You're not trying to drive the game?"

"You guys create the wave, and we'll try to surf it a little bit."

Gibbs alluded to the Hallmark holiday's origins with the 32nd president. "I wonder what people did on the 100th day before [Franklin] Roosevelt's 100th day," the press secretary mused.

"One president died before that day," a reporter pointed out.

"Well, it was probably less of a cheery day, I guess, in that administration."

The 44th president, however, was quite cheerful about his Hallmark holiday. He began his celebration at the White House in the morning with party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter. "In these 100 days we've begun to move this nation in the right direction," Obama intoned.

In Missouri, he expanded on the theme: "Today marks 100 days since I took the oath of office to be your president. [APPLAUSE.] One hundred days -- that's a good thing. [APPLAUSE.] Thank you, thank you, thank you." At 8 p.m., he stood in the East Room for a news conference extolling "the steps we've taken over the last 100 days to move this economy from recession to recovery."

TV anchors chided the White House for, as NBC's Matt Lauer put it, "taking full advantage" of the 100-day hoopla after dismissing it as "a fake holiday." But the networks and cable did much the same, for the same reason: Even Hallmark holidays are good for ratings.

"This whole 100-day thing to me is sometimes just absolutely nuts!" lamented Roland Martin on CNN -- which, as of 3 p.m., had broadcast the phrase "100 days" no fewer than 76 times.

MSNBC was only slightly behind, at 57 mentions. "Has it been a great, good, average 100 days for President Obama?" asked anchor Ed Schultz as part of the station's "special coverage" of the day. "What's your call?"

"I think it's been a very good 100 days," replied Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Even Fox News had tallied up 41 grudging mentions of Obama's 100 days by 3 p.m. "I think the second 100 days are going to be more relevant," proposed Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

With cable news setting the pace, the entire political-industrial complex was mobilized. Brookings and the National Journal held 100-day briefings. White House photographer Pete Souza posted an "Official White House Photostream" on Flickr with a few hundred photographs of Obama. CNBC's John Harwood asked fiery White House Chief of Staff Emanuel, "What's the angriest you've gotten in the first 100 days?"

"I don't have, in my view, a volatile temper," a sweet and mild Emanuel replied.

Some Republicans were classy ("I think he's demonstrated leadership," said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa). Others were less so ("This is no time for Democrats in Washington to do a victory lap," growled House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio).

Administration officials and their allies, meanwhile, issued their own report cards. "In the first 100 days, USDA has moved quickly," Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said in a conference call. "I would definitely give the president an A," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference.

And Obama's 100 days brought to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's mind Winston Churchill in 1942. "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning," Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement.

MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough even devised a special greeting. "Happy 100th day," he told Obama adviser Jarrett.

"Well, thank you," Jarrett replied.

"Arlen Specter certainly delivered a very festive 100-day birthday present to you all."

But such festivities can be tiring, and officials were weary as they marked the administration's 100-day birthday. Goolsbee, of the Council of Economic Advisers, likened the 100 days to "20 dog years." And Jarrett, on Fox News, was asked if it felt as if 100 days had passed. "At least a thousand," she replied.

A thousand days? Now that one should really be a blowout.

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