Slate's Change-o-Meter: A respectable first day for Obama.

Slate's Change-o-Meter: A respectable first day for Obama.

Slate's Change-o-Meter: A respectable first day for Obama.

Keeping score for the Obama administration.
Jan. 21 2009 6:13 PM

The Change-o-Meter

A halt to military commissions in Guantanamo notches points for Obama.

Chris Wilson chatted live with readers about the Change-o-Meter. Read the transcript.

After a night of inaugural-ball-hopping, President Obama showed up to work at 8:35 a.m. today to read the traditional note on the desk from his predecessor. Then he got down to business changing stuff.

At Obama's request, military judges have granted a 120-day suspension in cases involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, temporarily halting the trials of five men suspected of plotting the 9/11 attacks. The administration also released a draft of an executive order to shut down the naval prison altogether, directing that the camp be closed "as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order," the Associated Press reports. The new administration quickly put the brakes on any federal rules and regulations from the Bush administration until further review.

Obama's first official executive orders and directives erected higher barriers between lobbyists and his administration—specifically, making it harder for people to move between them. Top White House aides will be barred from lobbying the government for two years. People moving in the opposite direction will not be allowed to work on issues in the White House for which they previously lobbied. Obama also issued a salary freeze for those making more than $100,000 a year.

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In addition to a busy day of consultations with a variety of different sets of advisers, Obama is also expected to ask his top military commanders for a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months.

The Tally: Obama's move to halt the military tribunals at Guantanamo is the most immediate and substantive change of the day. While the order buys the new administration four months to figure out what to do with the detainees who are currently facing trial—including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—many suspect it is essentially the end of the controversial military commissions established in 2006.

The Change-o-Meter is less impressed with the new in-house rules. The pay freeze is a nice symbolic gesture but functionally meaningless; just about everyone working in the top levels of government could be making a lot more elsewhere—though now they'll have to scrape by for two years before landing that seven-digit salary at a K Street firm. While it may be wise for Obama to begin his ethics reform at the White House, any meaningful revision to the convection of power in D.C. will require much more sweeping moves. One reader points out that Obama should be penalized for governing with too many executive orders, a staple of the Bush/Cheney theory of a unitary executive. While it's a good point, this is a reasonable way to set policy for one's own employees. But we'll be keeping an eye out for more egregious uses of Bush's favorite act.

We won't know the specifics on a withdrawal from Iraq for some time, but Obama gets points for convening the brass right away and setting the gears of the extraction in motion.

Bonus: It may not be the most important change in the world, but a Slate reader points out a telling difference in the Obama and Bush Web sites. While Bush's Whitehouse.gov placed heavy restrictions on how search engines and data miners could crawl the site, Obama's does not, making the content of the site more accessible and aggregatable. We'll toss in a point for that.

Add it all up, and we arrive at 40 percent on the Change-o-Meter. For Day 1, it's a respectable performance.

There's a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.