WASHINGTON -- The enormity of the economic meltdown -- to define much of President Obama's first 100 days in office -- was fully realized by the Obama team during a mid-December meeting at Obama's transition headquarters in the Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago.
Obama was briefed by people who would go on to be his top White House economic advisers -- Christina Romer, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner and Peter Orzag.
Obama's Chicago pals, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, were at the four-hour long presentation.
Axelrod was moving from top campaign adviser to senior adviser in the White House, where his portfolio would include Obama's message and communication operation.
Emanuel, not part of the campaign, was giving up his House seat to join the administration as Obama's chief of staff.
Romer's briefing detailed the sinking economy.
"Very sobering," Axelrod told me.
Axelrod and I talked about the first 100 days on a recent Sunday at an outdoor cafe in Washington. Our conversation was interrupted four times by youthful figures I can only describe as fans approached Axelrod, whose profile is skyrocketing.
By now you may have heard Axelrod and others in the Obama White House -- they have message discipline -- refer to the 100-day mark as a "Hallmark holiday," an artificial construct.
"We're on a journey here, and the journey's just begun," Axelrod said.
But Team Obama wants to make sure they have the last word on the grades in the first-quarter report card. Tonight, Obama hosts his third prime-time news conference.
Obama has been confronted with the unexpected: Sudanese pirates; floods; violence on the Mexican border, and the latest, the swine flu. His vetting team dropped the ball on several Cabinet nominees.
But much of the 100 days have been marked by a to-do list promised during the campaign: wind down the Iraq war; send more troop s to Afghanistan; set the stage for closing Guantanamo; reach out to the Islamic world; allow federal stem cell research; start on health care; end harsh interrogation methods of terrorist detainees.
Obama's major legislative success was the $787 billion economic stimulus package to jump-start the economy. However, Obama, who pledged during the campaign to bring a new era of bipartisanship to Washington, scored the victory with no help from the GOP.
The stimulus provided money for a host of Obama initiatives on interrelated education, energy, environment and transportation programs.
Obama's international travels demonstrated what he said would happen during the campaign. He said his showing up -- the first African-American president, who approached world leaders as a partner, not a boss -- would enhance the world standing of the U.S.
He embraced his rival, Hillary Clinton, making her secretary of state, leveraging her popularity along with his.
The most remarkable thing to Axelrod: "The comfort and ease with which he has settled in to an extraordinarily difficult role."
When it comes to that style, Obama has maintained his cool -- in the literal and cultural sense.
Obama is "unflappable no matter what static or noise seems to surround him. He stays in a Zenlike mode," presidential historian Doug Brinkley told me.
Obama continues the pragmatism that marked his short career as a senator from Illinois. "Emotionally he is a progressive kept in check," Brinkley said. "Leaning toward the left, operating out of the dead center."
Obama's weak link?
Said Brinkley, "If his policies on the economy blow up in his face."