How Roosevelt and Kennedy fared in three months

AS yardsticks go, a hundred days may not be the best way to judge the success or failure of an administration.

A little over three months is hardly long enough to transform society or the economy, while a popular president is likely to be still basking in the inflated optimism associated with honeymoon periods.

But for successive generations of presidents, the 100-day benchmark has been used to assess their effectiveness in the early stages of their administration.

President Barack Obama in a radio interview in Colorado acknowledged the emphasis that some put on the 100-day mark.

Although important, “it’s probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference”, he said.

Nonetheless, Obama did admit in a separate CBS interview that he had been studying Franklin D Roosevelt’s first 100 days in anticipation of becoming president.

By the standards of FDR, the new administration — despite multi-trillions worth of money pledged to help the economy — can be seen as sluggish.

Roosevelt’s first 100 days in 1933 were a whirlwind of activity with 15 major bills introduced and signed into law.

Elected at the nadir of the US depression, his first day in office saw the tabling of the Emergency Banking Act, implementing an unprecedented bank holiday in a bid to get institutions to open their doors to the public again.

It was swiftly followed by a number of acts to offer immediate relief efforts and pull the economy back from the brink as he offered Americans a New Deal.

Such was the rush to get legislation through, some bills were not even read by members of Congress before being approved.

Although impressive, Obama’s legislative output is overshadowed by that of FDR.

But despite the economic gloom, the depths of the early 1930s demanded unprecedented action by FDR’s administration.

Bill Galstonk, a domestic policy expert at the Brookings Institution, explained: “The circumstances are so different it is like comparing apples and oranges.

“But it is fair to say that Barack Obama has inherited the circumstances falling between what Ronald Reagan faced in 1981 and Roosevelt faced in 1933 — and he has responded with a programme bolder than Reagan but not as far-reaching as FDR.”

In a move echoed by President Obama, John F Kennedy tried to draw attention away from the 100-day mark.

In his inaugural address, President Kennedy outlined his vision, before adding: “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days; nor in the life of this administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

In retrospect, it was a good idea for Kennedy to downplay what could be achieved in 100 days, as JFK, despite his continued popularity, did not get off to the best of starts.

A relatively narrow election victory and a solid conservative block meant that he struggled, certainly in comparison to FDR, in getting his domestic agenda passed through Congress.

And shortly before Kennedy hit the 100-day mark the Bay of Pigs humiliation occurred, with CIA-trained Cuban exiles failing spectacularly to overthrow the Castro regime.

In comparison to Kennedy, Obama has had an easier ride in Congress, while overseas his reputation has grown.

Galston said: “Kennedy’s administration at home and especially abroad got off to a very rocky start.

“It took Kennedy more than a year to learn how to be a president

“I certainly do not think Obama is doing as badly by the standards of Kennedy.”


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