Saturday, January 24, 2009

100-day benchmark looms for Obama

(Originally published 1/24/09)

I heard an historian on television the other day lamenting the Hundred Days benchmark made famous by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression. It is looked upon as an initial indicator, the first real measure of a president's success, he said, even though success by the standard FDR set is nearly impossible to achieve.

Roosevelt's early New Deal wins basically doomed future presidents to relative failure, the historian said; it's unlikely that any other chief executive could produce such major accomplishments in such little time, because quick legislative action was predicated on the extraordinarily dire circumstances facing the nation.

There is no question that President Obama is attempting to fashion his administration's first steps in 2009 after Roosevelt's efforts more than 75 years ago. And these times certainly bear similarities to those: Politicians aren't at all shy about invoking the Great Depression to fans the flames of Washington's legislative engine; in addition, there is unrest throughout the world, and millions of anxious Americans are looking to a popular new president for hope and help.

In his book, "Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America," author Adam Cohen writes that "after assuring a despairing nation that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,' Roosevelt promised 'action, and action now.'"

For President Obama, action there has been. In the first 48 hours of his presidency, Obama hit the ground running: He held meetings with key administration figures on his economic recovery plan, established a "daily economic briefing" as part of his standing schedule, signed an executive order to close the controversial terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within a year and announced the appointments of special envoys to deal with ongoing issues in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But there are notable differences between Roosevelt and Obama. Cohen writes that "a remarkable inaugural address" underpinned and paved the way for FDR's early moves in Congress, and desperate lawmakers gave FDR everything he wanted in those first 100 days. There was little remarkable about Obama's speech Tuesday, and by the time he delivered it, he had already fought his first tough –- though successful -– economic battle with the Senate.

The period between election and inauguration allows the president-elect time to get his sea-legs, as it were. And Obama took full advantage of the transition, alternately flexing his political muscle and staying on the sidelines when he saw fit. He took a strong and visible role on the economy, making public statements about daily indicators and actively and personally participating in negotiations about the release of second half of the congressional bailout. But as Israel undertook military action in Gaza, Obama demurred, repeatedly repeating the mantra that there is "only one president at a time."

All that changed at noon on Tuesday, when the affairs and safety and future of this country were entrusted in their entirety to President Barack Obama.

Three days down ... 97 to go.

No comments: