The First One Hundred Days of Barack Obama


Ever since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first one hundred days of an administration have been judged by a special standard concerning activity and inspiration. After dealing with the banking crisis, FDR decided to keep Congress in session and to push though, with little debate, his New Deal agenda which focused on centralized efforts to limit and control production in both factories and farms. For a people used to a very weak national government and very limited responsibility for the well being of the economy, this flurry of legislation was breathtaking. It set in stone for many Americans of that generation, the image of a benevolent activist president—an image that served FDR and the Democrats well for years to come.

Now, during the end of the Bush Administration and the beginning of the Obama Administration, we are facing a series of economic problems. By all the polls, the American people are wishing the new president well and are also supportive of his efforts. Obama too has had to deal with crippling sectors of the economy crumbling at once: housing, banks, the stock market, the automobile industry, and the overall structure of financial lending. None of us realized all those areas were so vulnerable, and that their assets were, in the new idiom, “toxic.” Greed characterized the 1920s and greed characterized our time. Reformers, conservative and liberal, wanted to roll back the FDR controls on the financial institutions, and even wanted to get us to invest our Social Security in the market. Are we lucky that Congress, in a rare moment of lucidity, did not touch the Social Security system as we know it?

In the Obama One Hundred Days we have seen the president trying to deal with some of the same problems FDR did, and often in the same ways. The basic assumption of the Obama economists is different from the early or first New Deal. They are Keynesians and they believe that we need to dump federal dollars of incredible proportions into the blood stream of the economy. But in doing so we are saving industries that should not be saved, such as GM and Chrysler which will inevitably go bankrupt. There are two camps of critics: conservatives who oppose expenditures but have no alternative plans to the Bush-Obama strategy and academic liberals who are complaining that the federal government needs to print even more money to get the economy going again.

For one hundred days Obama has followed the liberals and has also reminded Congress of the need to pour money into medical care, education, and environmentally safe alternative energy. As with the New Deal, the Obama plan provides states and thus communities with billions of dollars to help them meet their obligations and avoid bankruptcy.

Obama’s world is one in which international trade is critical to recovery, much more so than in the 1930s. FDR’s fear was deflation and he tried to control consumption and production by instituting codes of industrial conduct and raising minimum wages. Obama’s fear has to be bringing on a wild bout of inflation from all the spending he is unleashing. Both presidents have to face the fact that unemployment is an intractable problem. So much of the stimulus package is targeted at blue collar construction, as it was during the New Deal. But many more of our people are white collar professionals and are not going to benefit from bridges and highways.

Obama’s one hundred days have also tried to deal with our image abroad by apologizing (perhaps too much) for US leadership, war making, and even torture. FDR dealt very little with foreign policy in his first months of his administration.

Obama has become an international rock star, in part because he is young and fresh, and in part because of the novelty of having an African-American in the White House. No other figure could have received such receptions abroad. His is so different from the animosity of the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney view of the world. For one hundred days, it is not a bad record so far.

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