President Obama offered a laudatory assessment Wednesday night of his early days in office, suggesting the worst of the economic crisis has passed and Americans have regained some of their old confidence.
Speaking to a well-heeled audience of campaign donors in Beverly Hills, Obama was strikingly upbeat and assured. He said he would stack his first four months in office against any president going back as far as Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"I'm confident in the future," Obama said. "I'm not yet content."
He touted passage of his sprawling $787-billion economic stimulus package, which Obama said had already started to improve the country's well-being.
"It's safe to say we have stepped back from the brink, that there is some calm that didn't exist before," he told a crowd sprinkled with celebrities, including actors Jamie Foxx, Marisa Tomei and Kiefer Sutherland.
The enthusiasm inside the Beverly Hilton was palpable -- the president was greeted with repeated ovations -- and the payoff was handsome: between $3 million and $4 million in contributions to the Democratic National Committee.
But Obama notably sidestepped two of the biggest issues facing California: He said nothing about the state's disastrous financial condition or the issue of same-sex marriage, which heated up Tuesday when the state Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, a measure banning the practice.
Outside the hotel, about 200 demonstrators chanted and carried flags and protest signs, many urging Obama to take a stronger stand in favor of gay rights.
"The president made a promise when he made his speech about hope," said Rick Jacobs, one of the protest organizers. "I bought that promise and I still buy that promise, but it's time for him to start fulfilling that promise for all Americans."
Earlier Wednesday, before arriving in Beverly Hills, Obama observed a milestone of his own making: 100 days since passage of the stimulus plan. The result, he told a Las Vegas audience, has been nearly 150,000 jobs "created or saved," tax cuts for 95% of working families and higher Social Security benefits for 54 million senior citizens.
The president qualified his remarks, however, so as not to seem unduly optimistic or indifferent toward the millions of Americans still struggling to get by -- many of whom lost their jobs after the economic bill passed.
"This is just the beginning," Obama said. "There are still too many Americans out of work, and too many who still worry that their job may be next. There are still too many families struggling to pay the bills, and too many businesses struggling to keep their doors open. . . . That's why my administration will continue an unrelenting, day-by-day effort to fight for economic recovery on all fronts."
When pundits and reporters set out to chart the progress of the Obama administration at 100 days, some in the White House disparaged the exercise as a foolish contrivance. But on Wednesday, the president's aides sought to buttress Obama's comments by releasing a list of 100 construction projects funded by the stimulus measure, including work on the San Diego Freeway at the Sepulveda Pass.
Republicans had a different take on the 100 days since the stimulus plan's passage. National party Chairman Michael S. Steele branded the White House progress report as a publicity stunt. "American families want jobs . . . not another report," Steele said.
The president made his remarks after touring the solar electric plant at Nellis Air Force Base, which he touted as a national model for job creation and a "greener" approach to energy.
The solar panels, built on part of an old landfill, provide about a quarter of the electricity used by the 12,000 people who live and work on the base on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
"In this case, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas," Obama said, drawing a burst of laughter from several hundred enlisted men and women, civilian workers and family members seated inside a curtained-off hangar in 90-degree heat.