WASHINGTON – The economy will determine whether Barack Obama achieves what few presidents have: a far-reaching change in American politics that might even earn its own title and legacy.

Will there be an Obama version of the New Deal, the Great Society or the Reagan Revolution?

Afghanistan, North Korea and other foreign hot spots certainly will test Obama. But the deeply troubled economy is his signature challenge and the focus of his greatest efforts, attention and gambles in his first 100 days in office.

Of course 100 days is just the start, too little time to determine the results (let alone the wisdom) of his decisions. But it’s enough time to discern the path Obama has chosen, the overarching philosophy that will shape his administration and history’s eventual judgment of it.

In a way, Obama is reversing the famous dictum of President Ronald Reagan, who said government is the problem, not the solution.

Confronting the worst economic crisis in more than a half-century, Obama is dramatically increasing the government’s role in overseeing banks, helping homeowners avoid foreclosure and even determining who runs General Motors Corp. or merges with Chrysler LLP. Pouring billions of dollars into the efforts, he is stoking a huge federal deficit that could haunt him, and the nation, if it does not recede sharply in the next few years.

“Obama is Reagan with a minus sign,” said William Galston, a Brookings Institution 

scholar and former Clinton administration official. Just as Reagan tried to undo President Lyndon B. Johnson’s government-financed Great Society, Galston said, so Obama “is trying to undo Reagan and Reaganism.”Obama’s domestic agenda would be huge even if he focused only on reviving the moribund economy and addressing the recession’s causes, including loosely regulated lending and a collapsed housing market. But he has gone much further, calculating that a crisis creates the best environment for ramming big changes through Congress.

He’s proposing a vast extension of health insurance, increased federal spending on education and energy and a strategy for reducing greenhouse gases by slapping a high price on their production.

Obama rejects claims by some lawmakers that he is trying to do too much at once.

“I’d love if these problems were coming at us one at a time instead of five or six at a time,” he said recently. “It’s more than most Congresses and most presidents have to deal with in a lifetime,” he said, but it’s time to tackle them.

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