Why the president's first 100 days matter

Franklin Roosevelt's record set an impossible benchmark.
Franklin Roosevelt's record set an impossible benchmark.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office March 4, 1933, the country was grappling with the Great Depression.

   Crippled but indefatigable, Roosevelt declared a banking holiday to slow bank runs, pushed reforms to prevent fraud in securities markets, established the Civilian Conservation Corps to hire men from poor families, and pushed through other programs aimed at providing economic relief and putting Americans back to work.
    Reflecting on the flurry of activity, he sat down for a radio address on July 24, 1933. He needed, Roosevelt said, “a little quiet thought to examine and assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal.”
    At once, Roosevelt updated the public on his attempts to restart the economy and set in motion the now standard practice of judging a president’s first 100 days in office. The problem is that Roosevelt set the bar so high that it is impossible to top -- or even equal. President Donald Trump has complained (via Twitter) that the 100-day benchmark is unfair.
    “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!” he tweeted last week.
     Historians and commentators put it differently, but they also debate whether 100 days is a legitimate -- or arbitrary -- benchmark upon which to judge a president. Here are some examples of differing opinions, along with links and sources for further study:

It's all hype: Presidents should pay less attention to the hype attached to the first 100 days, writes David Greenberg, professor of history at Rutgers University.
     His article explains that the term "100 days" actually originates from the time of Napoleon. "In 1815, the exiled conqueror escaped from his redoubt on the island of Elba, rallied the French army, and briefly restored his rule until his defeat at Waterloo. Technically, all of this took 111 days to unfold, but the period came to be called the Hundred Days: a period of dramatic accomplishment and transformation," he writes in an article published on the website of the Miller Center, a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in public policy.
     Greenberg reasons, "All modern presidents go through ups and downs, periods of positive and negative coverage, none of which matter much in the long run."  Instead of attempting to amass accomplishments within 100 days, he recommends working on substantial issues. "In particular, successful presidencies -- even those with rocky launches—have begun with the passage of a major economic plan that can both set the ideological tenor of an administration and, if it spurs recovery and growth, create space both politically and fiscally to achieve other goals in subsequent years." Read the article on the Miller Center's website

Good legislation takes time: "In our current culture of quick, instant satisfaction, we want presidents to deliver on promises right away-- and we have little patience for waiting," writes Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, in an article on The Atlantic magazine's website. Some presidents get off to a strong start but then struggle. Others struggle early on but then finish strong. "Putting too much pressure on success in the first 100 days creates incentives for quick, and sometimes hasty, action. Great legislation can take time to produce." See the article on The Atlantic.com.

Momentum builds ... or it doesn't: "In a better world leaders wouldn’t be judged so much on their early accomplishments. They would be given time to make mistakes and learn; they could focus on long term vision and not have to worry so much about tactical maneuvering," writes Michael D. Watkins on the Harvard Business Review website. He adds, "Unfortunately, however, new presidents -- and all new leaders --have to live in the world they inherit. And it’s a world in which, for better, or worse, what new leaders do in their early days has a disproportionate impact on all that follows."
    Watkins, a professor in leadership and organizational change at IMD, a business school in Switzerland, explains that human resource executives he surveyed identified transitions into new roles as challenging times in the professional lives of managers. The transitional time is a period "when momentum builds or it doesn’t, when opinion about the new leader begin to crystallize." See the complete article on Harvard's website.

      To know more:


     Home sick: Why a candidate's health matters

     FDR's home away from the White House

     Attack inspired 'infamy' speech

     Ranking the presidents, best to worst

     Follow StudyHall.Rocks on Twitter

    If you would like to comment, give us a shout, or like us on Facebook and tell us what you think.