100 days: How Obama changed D.C.

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The president retains — but doesn’t depend on — his global star power. He is like Nike: Kids still love him; foreigners still love him. Obama remains a powerful brand that commands constant media coverage, much of it fawning, and that moves markets.

But emphasis on personality and style obscures one of the biggest things that look different now than three months ago: the familiar categories that had classified Democrats for a generation. When Obama took office, a raft of stories talked about how he had relied heavily on Clinton veterans to staff the administration and how he seemed likely to govern with a “centrist” ideology.

Three months later, this seems absurd. The reality is that the size and speed of Obama’s agenda is as stark a departure from the defensive-minded incrementalism of Bill Clinton as it is from the conservatism of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

His proposals for health care for all, easier student loans, restrictions on carbon emissions and unabashed income redistribution from the top to the lower and middle classes represent the most focused and far-reaching argument for activist government of any Democratic president for at least two generations.

Obama aides always insist the president is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. But this is disingenuous: What is ideology except an argument about the role of government? A more precise way of putting it is that Obama is bored by, or even contemptuous of, the debates between liberal “traditional Democrats” and centrist “New Democrats” that once consumed the party. The convergence of Obama’s agenda and the economic crisis has for the moment made both labels seem like relics.

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