Obama Spokesman: President-Elect Will Focus on Strengthening the Economy But Can't Work Miracles

Attempting to lower expectations, Robert Gibbs downplayed the first 100 days of the administration.

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CHICAGO—President-elect Barack Obama will focus relentlessly on helping the middle class and strengthening the economy when he takes office January 20, but he doesn't want Americans to think he can work miracles, says chief Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Gibbs told U.S. News in an exclusive interview yesterday that the 100-day framework often used to assess a new president's achievements—which started with Franklin Roosevelt's hyperactive first three months in 1933—may be outmoded because today's problems are so numerous and complex.

Attempting to lower soaring expectations, Gibbs says 100 days is an "arbitrary time period" that probably doesn't apply anymore.

Gibbs's concern about expectations seems well founded. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released yesterday finds that nearly two thirds of Americans say Obama will change the country for the better. Majorities say Obama will improve race relations, lift the economy, stabilize financial markets, make the United States safer from terrorism, lessen dependence on foreign oil, reduce global warming, win the war in Afghanistan, and remove U.S. troops from Iraq without causing a major upheaval in that country, the poll says.

Gibbs, who is expected to be named soon as the new White House press secretary, adds that Obama won't be rushed into making his cabinet appointments. "He understands every appointment sends tremendous signals throughout the country and throughout the world," Gibbs notes.

Obama's standard is pragmatic rather than ideological as he seeks to represent everyday people who haven't had a government that was "on their side" for years, the spokesman says. He adds that Obama judges each finalist for an appointment by assessing whether he or she shares "a philosophy of getting things done." Obama also wants advisers who favor openness and are good team players.

Gibbs says Obama is trying to balance veterans with newcomers in his administration. The main point, Gibbs argues, is that Obama himself is the change agent. He compares Obama to a new quarterback on a team of veterans. "The guy calling the plays" makes the difference, Gibbs says.