Barack Obama’s young presidency faces the ritual 100-day judgment of the US media, an arbitrary measure set nearly 80 years ago as the country sought to claw its way out of the Great Depression.
On taking office in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt called Congress into emergency session and pushed through 15 bills over 100 days — some sticklers say 105 — in a bid to resurrect the US economy.
The pace has never been equaled by his successors, some of whom have embraced the measure, while others have tried to quiet the deafening media fanfare.
“It’s just, on its face, silly,” presidential expert Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington said when asked about the journalistic feeding frenzy. “But you just can’t fight it.”
Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, tried to stay above what aides proclaimed to be a meaningless fray, but eventually relented in the face of journalistic demands and fierce criticisms from Democrats.
“There’s not a lot you can get done in 100 days,” said Dana Perino, the last of Bush’s four press secretaries over his eight years at the White House.
“You can set the tone of your presidency, you can propose some new ideas, initiatives, you can take a few foreign trips” and “introduce yourself” to the world, she said. “And that’s what President Obama has done.”
Last Tuesday, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed the focus on April 29 as a “Hallmark holiday.”
But he also said Obama would do a “town hall”-style question and answer session with voters in St Louis, Missouri, followed by a prime-time news conference at the White House.
Many historians and political observers treat the ritual as an arbitrary, media-driven assessment that holds presidents to an impossible standard that poorly reflects the modern realities of US politics.
“I call it, frankly, Roosevelt’s curse on his successors. It would be as though I, as a professor, decided to issue a grade to my students on the third day of class,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
“The game has hardly begun. What are you really judging, 100 days? Who judges a company on the basis of one quarter earnings?” Hess said, adding that most presidents are “purely getting organized” at this point.
However, Hess said, “you can certainly judge him in terms of how acceptable or interested the American people, or all the people in the world, are in him.”
By that measure, Hess said, Obama clearly shines.
The president’s popularity may not last, but it gives him political clout, which “is important in that it gives him more of an opportunity to be successful,” Hess said.
As for the expression itself, supervisory archivist Bob Clark at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in New York, says it is unclear who coined it — though the president himself used it in July 1933.
But it is believed to draw inspiration from Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from exile on the island of Elba and the 100-day military campaign that ended with his decisive defeat at Waterloo in June 1815.