Inside the Capitol

Monday, March 30, 2009

4-1 100 Days a Disservice

WED, 4-01-09

SANTA FE - President Barack Obama is nearing the three-quarters mark of his first hundred days in office. Every major news source is eagerly keeping tabs - political pundits, 24-hour news networks and interest groups of all stripes.
The countdown idea isn't Obama's although some of his spokespeople seem to be inadvertently going along with it. The president would just as soon not have the clock ticking so fast by imposing an artificial yardstick.
Obama is known as a man on the move and some contend he is moving too fast. But the new president says he'd like to take the time to do it right. He says a thousand days might be more like it.
President John F. Kennedy railed against any exaggerated expectations about getting his New Frontier in place quickly, saying it wouldn't be in 100 days, it might not be in 1,000 days or even in the lifetime of anyone on this planet.
President Franklin Roosevelt is credited with originating the concept of the 100-day timetable but my chief historian, Dave Clary, of Roswell, claims that's not correct. Roosevelt, he admits, was in a hurry to get his economic recovery programs in gear and faced numerous delays.
Presidents weren't inaugurated back then until March and Congress sometimes didn't get rolling until December. So as soon as Roosevelt took office, he asked Congress to come in early for a 100-day session to approve his recovery initiatives. That's the 100 days people talk about but they weren't really Roosevelt's first 100 days.
Many wanted Obama's first 100 days to begin the day after his election. But, like Roosevelt, Obama knew it would be unwise to step on the toes of the previous administration by having more than one president at a time.
Clary says a much earlier use of "the hundred days" in history refers to the second reign of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. It began with his escape from exile in Elba. It ended with his defeat at Waterloo and permanent exile in St. Helena, a windswept island in the South Atlantic. It all happened in 100 days.
I don't remember when the first 100 days of a president's term began evoking references back to Roosevelt. The term is unlikely to have been used at the beginning of Roosevelt's next three administrations. President Harry Truman's first 100 days weren't measured. We were much more interested at the time in ending World War II.
That takes us up to the 1953 beginning of President Dwight Eisenhower's administration 20 years after Roosevelt began the job. I don't remember it being used then. Jack Kennedy used it at the beginning of his administration but only in a disparaging manner.
My guess is that counting down the first 100 days of a presidency began with the advent of 24-hour news channels, which needed all the material they could get.
The practice hasn't really been good for the nation or its presidents. It has created unrealistic expectations and hasty efforts to accomplish them. Now, all brands of special interest groups have adopted the 100-day timetable for the new president to accomplish their own goals.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton added to the rushed expectations during her 2008 campaign by speaking to a 100-day timetable for what she would accomplish during the early days of her administration.
Whether he had anything to do with the rebirth of the 100-days mania, former Congressman Newt Gingrich definitely increased its usage. An avid student of history, Gingrich used the timetable in his Contract With America, which helped wrest control of both houses of Congress from the Democratic Party in 1994.
That count-the-days syndrome then extended to the Democratic take-back of Congress in 2006. So we've now extended to Congress the same expectations of turning around the ship quickly.

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