Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days

President Obama finally reached this historic landmark, where traditionally the tone of the presidency is set and the "honeymoon" period supposedly ends.

Only in Obama's case, he never really got much of a honeymoon before the right-wing noise machine had fully cranked up and began firing counter-productive criticism at the president on all cylinders. An obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate also did everything possible to impede the progress of the new administration.

It's useful to frame a discussion of Obama's first 100 days in an historical context, so I'm going to compare his situation to those of former presidents. Generally, there are two categories that define the new president's initial months in office, and that's whether or not the nation is in "crisis" when he's sworn in.

FDR took office in 1933 to a nation mired in the depths of the Great Depression. On the day of his inauguration, he forewent the celebratory balls and began work directly. His cabinet was sworn in unceremoniously that afternoon, and he immediately issued proclamations calling Congress back to session and declaring a four-day bank holiday to allow the administration time to pen emergency legislation.

The remainder of FDR's 100 days resulted in landmark legislation, including a farm bill to help America's hard-hit farmers, creation of the SEC, establishing the CCC and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and passed Glass-Steagall and created FICA. By the end of the 100 days, FDR saw a total of 15 major laws passed which provided the framework for the New Deal.

In contrast to FDR, Dwight Eisenhower took office during the waning days of the Korean War. The stalemate was finally made permanent by the UN, which adopted India's proposal to use the vicinity of the 38th Parallel as the official DMZ.

Otherwise, Eisenhower's first 100 days were uneventful for the most part. Two notable exceptions were the establishment of the Department of Health, Education & Welfare; and the president's refusal to stay the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage.

JFK's 100 days were mostly uneventful too, with his most significant achievement being the establishment of the Peace Corps; until Day 88, when he authorized and then withheld support for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. Kennedy admitted his failure in that debacle.

Nixon took office in 1969 during a time of significant social change. The War in Vietnam was in full force, and Nixon authorized the secret and illegal massive bombing attacks in Cambodia. Well, as Nixon said, it's not really illegal if the president does it, establishing the precedent that George W. Bush acted under during his reign.

Speaking of W, he took office after a time of huge economic growth and prosperity. Bush's first acts in office reflected the tone of his tenure. Two days in, Bush announced the end of funding for international centers that offer family planning. On Day 10 he announced the creation of an Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives to help religious groups obtain federal tax dollars to address social problems. He also initiated the famous tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthiest Americans.

Clinton, upon taking office, immediately revoked the "Gag Rule", which forbade federally-funded clinics from discussing family-planning alternatives that included abortion. He lifted the moratorium on federal funding for stem-cell research, named Hillary Clinton to head a task force to reform national health care. Signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. Then Waco happened.

So, how does Barack Obama fit in with the historical perspective?

Obama took office during another national economic crisis, albeit not as bad (yet) as the Great Depression. His immediate concern was providing emergency help to jump start the economy. Congress passed a stimulus package that, while somewhat laden with earmarks, was immediately put to use to help get the economy moving forward.

One of the first acts by President Obama was to suspend all pending federal regulations proposed by outgoing President George W. Bush so that they could be reviewed. In his first week, Obama ordered the Guantanamo detention facility to be closed and that the Army Field Manual be used as the guide for terror interrogations; banning torture and other illegal coercive techniques, such as waterboarding. By that single act, Obama brought the United States back into the civilized world.

He established a weekly Youtube address similar to FDR's "Fireside Chats", and ushered in a new era of openness and accountability in the White House. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which requires equal pay regardless of sex, race or age. He ordered the DOT to establish higher mileage standards for vehicles.

President Obama set an exit strategy for Iraq, and reinvested troops in Afghanistan, where they truly belonged for the last six years. He embarked on several overseas trips to strengthen U.S. ties with foreign nations, and worked to rebuild those bridges that the previous administration happily burned.

In his first international crisis, Obama authorized the use of deadly force to successfully end the piracy standoff in Somalia, much to the consternation of FoxNews pundits. Of course, the new administration was a target of wingnuts even before they got started, with Rush Limbaugh actively rooting for President Obama to "fail".

Even today, the New York Post, that awful rag owned by former Australian news magnate and alleged America-hater Rupert Murdoch, titled their overview of the Obama administration "100 Days, 100 Mistakes". Sometimes I feel the extreme Right would rather burn down the country than let the Democrats run it.

Of course, there are areas where Obama hasn't done everything I wanted. But I feel that 100 days isn't enough to accomplish it all, especially when we're in such difficult economic circumstances. So I'm willing to go easy on the president for the time being. Over the next few weeks I'll devote specific articles to issues that I think he may have missed the point about, or acted completely opposite than expectations.

But for now, I'm thinking along the lines of what the president said about the first 100 days very early on:

"The first hundred days is going to be important, but it’s probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference."


tessa said...

Haven't we reached 100 days on that seal yet? Makes me kinda nauseous.

CT Bob said...


OK, since you insist, I'll club it and move on.

Anonymous said...

100 day of complete disaster, financial ruin, and thuggery. That's something to celebrate?

Did you catch those cool sneakers that the wife wore to feed the poor at the food bank? Such class to wear $540.00 sneakers to feed the poor. You think?

I can't wait for the next 100 days.

CT Bob said...

Watch it, or I'll sic the seal on you!