As juniors turned through the pages of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first 100 days as president in their U.S. history textbooks, President Obama was making history during his first 100 days. The two presidents, both Democrats, both faced with grave economic crises, were being compared even before Senator Obama’s inauguration.
Part of the comparison draws from the decisive victory each attained in his election. More significantly, however, before taking office each president outlined a specific plan of attack to address the nation’s problems, with the vision of leading America in a new direction.
Just as FDR developed an aggressive and comprehensive New Deal for our country in crisis, Obama envisioned a plan to put us on the course of economic recovery and future prosperity—a plan that could give us a realistic chance of getting out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Obama stated this plan clearly in his acceptance speech in August, 2008: end our dependence on oil from the Middle East in 10 years, cut taxes for 95% of working families, increase the efficiency of healthcare, invest money in alternative energies, keep American jobs in America and not overseas.
Obama is criticized most for his spending. Like FDR, Obama was met on his inauguration with fervent hope and noticeable dissent. Four days before the inauguration, Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said he “hope [d] Obama fails.” On inauguration day at Deerfield, the atmosphere in the large auditorium was mixed: some were hopeful about the work to come, while others believed that the measures laid out to fix the economic crisis were too drastic and would prove ineffective, wondering whether spending would only plunge future generations further into debt to little avail.
Upon their arrival, following the 2008 bailouts and the largest government spending in history, Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress started spending. The stimulus bill was the largest piece of spending passed under the Obama Administration, weighing in at $787 billion. Designed to stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending, improving education, and lowering healthcare costs, money from stimulus bill is already in the hands of businesses, healthcare providers, and citizens. While it is difficult to measure the efficacy of the bill so far, it is a hopeful sign that the stock market is improving and has erased its 2009 losses.
One can learn from FDR’s stimulus plan (the New Deal) that if a president is to fix the economy and put people back to work, he must act swiftly and boldly. Obama acted in much the same way, although with different applications. If the economy does not improve in the next two years, we will know that other measures are necessary, but at least we will know that an aggressive effort was made. Furthermore, the social and strategic change Obama has effected—equal pay for women, open travel to Cuba, a timeline for Iraq, a more secure Afghanistan, rewards for American companies that employ Americans—are guaranteed.
What will not change, and what never has, even under FDR, is the nature of the responsibilities of the U.S. government. As the President said on April 29, “I don’t want to run auto companies. I don’t want to run banks. I’ve got two wars I’ve got to run already. I’ve got more than enough to do.”
We can hope that the economic and social change FDR envisioned will be echoed by Obama in his first four years. While we are only in the first 1/10th of his term, Obama’s proactive approach has garnered high approval ratings and the prospect of prosperity.