100 Days: Rush To Judgement?

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Presidents dread it, historians decry it and professors denounce it. But thanks to the abiding image of Franklin D. Roosevelt taking the government by storm seven decades ago, President Obama gets his first report card next week when he celebrates his 100th day in the Oval Office.

It is a milestone whose importance the president played down while he sought the office, but one he cannot escape.

"The first hundred days is going to be important," Obama told a Colorado radio interviewer last October. "But it's probably going to be more like the first thousand days that makes a difference." In lowering expectations for the first 100 days, Obama was savvy enough to ignore the examples of some predecessors who rushed incomplete initiatives or championed phony measures to inflate their early resumes. Instead, he was taking a page from John F. Kennedy, though it would be difficult to lower expectations as much as Kennedy did.

Kennedy noted in his Inaugural address that his agenda "will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet."

Kennedy, of course, was right to worry about the early grading. His 87th Day was one of his worst as president, as the Bay of Pigs invasion he approved collapsed in failure.

"Presidents evolve, and that is particularly true of young presidents," said William A. Galston, President Bill Clinton's top domestic adviser and a critic of the whole rush to judgment after 100 days. "If somebody had judged what kind of president John F. Kennedy was or could be based on his first few months, they would not have come to a very happy conclusion. He had a steep learning curve ... and was clearly a much better president in the middle of 1962 than he was in April of 1961."

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