Succeed or Fail: Obama’s First 100 Days

When Barack Obama first began his quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination three years ago, the Dow Jones industrial average was around 14,000 and the world and national economies were in the midst of a boom. By 2008, America’s financial industry was in shambles, credit markets were frozen, housing values were decreasing and the economy was in the worst shape since the Great Depression. Add Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea to the mix, and you have got yourself an astounding set of international and national challenges.

The president’s first 100 days is an artificial, symbolic holiday that highlights and offers clues as to whether the new president has the tools and ability to handle the job. Basically, it is really difficult to regain your footing if you fall flat on your face right at the start. You can recover politically, but the chance for great domestic leadership is forever gone.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt came into office, most of the nation’s banks were already destroyed, which allowed him to reopen only the healthy ones. It gave Roosevelt the ability to tackle the credit crisis better than any plan that is available to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake today.

In 1933, FDR moved from left to right simultaneously, by cutting spending by an extraordinary 31 percent with one hand, while pioneering off-budget relief with the other. In Roosevelt’s first 100 days, he won approval of 15 bills, legalized alcohol, regulated Wall Street for the first time, offered the first bank deposit insurance and authorized collective bargaining agreements.

In 1963, during Lyndon B. Johnson’s first 100 days, he passed the Voting Rights Act, created Medicare, established the first federal aid to education, declared a war on poverty and passed an immigration bill that changed the structure of domestic America (by allowing more non-Europeans in). Since LBJ, the only major early achievements in the past administrations were Ronald Reagan’s budget and tax cuts in 1981, Bill Clinton’s 1993 plan for a stimulus bill worth $16 billion (which failed) and George W. Bush’s 2001 education program, “No Child Left Behind.”

In Obama’s first 100 days as president, he passed the $787 billion stimulus package, which is actually several bills complied into one. The stimulus package includes the biggest infrastructure investment since the 1950’s interstate highway and the biggest investment in education in a generation. Obama’s budget, which was passed without any Republican votes, shifts an entire range of priorities in a progressive direction. Include the dozen other executive orders and bills that seem to get signed almost every week, and one could argue that Obama’s first 100 days were just as successful, if not more successful, than Roosevelt’s first 100 days.

However, because it is difficult to measure Obama’s achievements through the passing of a budget or a stimulus package, it is easier to rate Obama’s success by thinking of the people who have benefited from these actions. If you are a child in need of health insurance, a hiker looking for more wilderness, a young person excited to take part in national service or a prisoner hoping to avoid being tortured in secrecy, then you have definitely benefited from Obama’s 100 days in office.

In spite of Obama’s historical win, he came into the job with unfavorable odds. Although he lacked major management experience, Obama quickly mastered the art of choosing the right senior management team and selling his agenda effectively to his customers in Congress, the public and the media. His calm and cool attitude makes it all go smoother, even when he makes mistakes.

Just as FDR got the country believing in capitalism and democracy in the midst of the Great Depression, Obama is trying to restore public confidence in the government and to lead the country in a new direction in the middle of an economic meltdown. And the people are responding to Obama’s message. From January to April, the percentage of Americans saying the country is finally moving in the “right direction” went up 23 points under Obama.

But the question remains: How successful was Obama’s first 100 days in office? Although the economy is still weak, he has put forward a series of initiatives to stabilize the housing and capital markets, created longer-term programs to create sustained growth, re-evaluated America’s military intentions and priorities in Iraq and Afghanistan and began the process of reaching out to the world in order to improve America’s image.

In the end, even if you disagree with Obama’s policies and his political ideology, he does deserve a high grade for his ability to articulate a new vision and direction for the country and finally getting Congress to act. But despite all of his efforts, Obama, as he himself indicated, should receive an incomplete for his first 100 days in office.

The reason is that despite all of his proposed programs to fix the economy and rearrange America’s international policies, we do not yet know what will work. Naturally, we will be able to determine if Obama’s term was successful or unsuccessful depending on how things progress in Iraq, Afghanistan and the economy.

However, despite all of his mistakes and false starts, what Obama has managed to accomplish, both nationally and internationally, in his first 100 days is enough to make any president envious.

Natalie Goudarzian is a third-year international studies major. She can be reached at ngoudarz@uci.edu.