First 100 Days: Social Policy Takes a Left Turn Under Obama

From the conscience clause to stem cell research, President Obama has shifted social policy to the left in his first 100 days in the White House. But the reversal of several of his predecessor's regulations has garnered hardly a whimper -- leaving many to wonder how much social issues matter to Americans amid two wars and an economic crisis.

-- Obama overturned George W. Bush's restriction on embryonic stem cell research last month when he signed an executive order authorizing expanded federal funding -- a decision he described as moral because it pursues research that will "ease human suffering."

-- Obama has proposed reversing additions to the "conscience clause" enacted by the Bush administration that allow physicians and other health care providers to refuse to provide medical services that conflict with their faith or conscience.

-- On Feb. 25, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration will reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons and impose additional restrictions.

-- And although Obama has said he opposes gay marriage, he has made clear that he supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples.

"It's cultural aggression," former Bush adviser Karl Rove told, adding that policy changes that "inject government" into moral matters -- like the conscience clause -- will have "enormous consequences."

But conservatives like Rove acknowledge that little attention has been given to Obama's agenda shift since he took office -- largely because lawmakers are more concerned with the economic downturn and national security.

"They're not getting attention because the defenders of these policies haven't grabbed the stage," Rove said.

Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said matters of national and international security -- like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and North Korea's recent missile launch -- have taken precedence in the first 100 days.

"That trumps the social issues," Bond told

The financial crisis, which mushroomed one month before Obama won election in November, determined the government's chief focus, lawmakers say.

"The focus of the president's first 100 days has been the economy and getting it turned around," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "As a result, people are more focused on the pocketbook issues at the moment"

"The economic problems of the country have overwhelmed the rest of the issue terrain," said Tad Devine, former adviser to presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry. "People are worried about their jobs, their savings, their homes, their retirement.  There's just no daylight for other things to rise to the surface."

Devine also cited what he believes is a change in the country's attitudes, saying issues that were once "hot button" topics have lost much of the public's attention.

"It's just a different country now. These issues don't have the power that they used to have a decade ago -- even five years ago," Devine said, adding that funding for public education and patients' bill of rights were among the top polling issues when Gore ran in 2000.

Devine said the change in cultural attitudes is most clearly seen through the issue of gay marriage. "This was something that, just a few years ago, you didn't have serious discussion of it. There might have been some discussion of it, but it wasn't manifested in legislatures." he said.

Stephen Wayne, professor of government at Georgetown University, said, "Things that are expected don't receive a lot of news coverage. He made his positions clear during the campaign. It's something we come to expect when we get a president with a different view."