Redefining the Presidency: Obama’s first 100 Days

Ever since FDR, new presidents face the scrutiny of how well they begin their mandate. While a good or a bad start is hardly indicative of how the presidency will turn out, it does set a tone. FDR is considered the standard. He took office amid an economic depression with deflation, about 25 per cent unemployment, banks going bankrupt, families losing their homes. President Roosevelt didn’t instantly transform the economy. But he created a sense of hope. He conversed with his electorate, he educated his voters, and he listened to them. There was a flurry of policy initiatives and while many were later declared unconstitutional, he was a leader.

Other notable first 100 days include JFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Kennedy started strong but capped off the first 100 days with the Bay of Pigs disaster. Reagan was able to liberate the hostages in Iran soon after the Inauguration but was also the victim of an assassination attempt. Clinton had a shaky start with the divisive issue of gays in the military and low-approval numbers by the end of the first 100 days. Bush started slow, prompting many to predict he would be a one-term president like his father, but then 9/11 happened.

Obama’s start is more in line with that of FDR. He inherited an economic mess, two wars that are far from over and America’s standing in the world has never been lower. After a shaky start, Obama rebounded and has set a pace of political activity that surpasses that of the FDR days–the largest ever stimulus package, bailout plans, restructuring of the auto industry, mortgage relief, healthcare proposals, executive orders closing Gitmo, ending torture and funding stem-cell research. As well, he attended four summits (NATO, G20, Prague, Americas), visited Canada, Mexico and Turkey.

What seems to be emerging, however, after the first 100 days is how Obama is redefining the Presidency. We know the constitution makes him the commander-in-chief and we acknowledge that his rhetorical ability makes him the communicator-in–chief. And we see more and more the teacher-in-chief as he explains through various media his policies. This is a President who connects the dots. When was the last time we heard a President captivate audiences with his oratorical skills? When did we hear a President say he “screwed up”? When did we hear a President say he would do “what he believes is right and not worry about politics at home” to justify shaking the hand of Hugo Chavez? When did we have a President so accessible to the hard questions from media, voters and youth? When was the last time a President would conduct a news conference to explain once again his policies to a midday TV audience? He does all this with grace and never demeans his opponents. When was the last time a President seemed to like Washington, the city, and be an active part of it? He has changed America’s views on the environment, energy dependence, multilateralism from that of the Bush–Cheney years. It is too early to predict the success of this presidency but one thing is certain–after 100 days, he’s redefining the Presidency, which was vital after eight years of George W.