The mystique of the first 100 days of a president's first term in office is certainly one of Washington's odd creatures. A rather arbitrary partition of time, the 100-day mark has, nevertheless, become a ritualistic measurement of White House success for D.C. punditry, and a burden for a young administration.
Cognizant of this, the Obama White House has begun the first in a series of framing exercises to, on the one hand, downplay the significance of the 100-days mark and, simultaneously, make the case that the president has wildly exceeded expectations. During his address before the Religious Action Center on Monday, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod offered the following take on how Obama has measured up 2,400 hours into office.
You come to Washington at a propitious time. There is a custom, an odd custom, the journalistic equivalent of the Hallmark holiday, called the 100-day review. I know it came about in the Roosevelt era and it stuck, but the truth is it is very hard to evaluate any presidency after one hundred days. Our work has just begun. But having said that, it is almost impossible not to yield to the temptation to look back at this juncture.
I don't think a president has ever confronted a more difficult set of circumstances maybe since FDR in entering the presidency. We face an economic crisis of, as you know, proportions we haven't seen since that time. We have challenges in foreign policy, two wars and significant challenges around the world that few presidents have faced coming into office... But I think we have made tremendous progress. The president passed an economic recovery package of historic size and scope and ambition in order to get our economy moving again. But he did it according to a set of principles, not just things to get the economy moving in the short run, but investing in things that will make us a stronger economy in the long run.
Mythologized from the early and prominent successes of Franklin Roosevelt's quick start, the first 100 days has become, ever since, a metric for presidential acumen. It is, as Stu Rothernberg of the Rothenberg Political Report notes, a "silly" measurement. "But we did it for Bush, Clinton, Bush etc., so how can we NOT do it for Obama without looking as if we are giving him a break?"
Every administration, Rothenberg adds, makes Axelrod's argument. But "reporters look for deadlines [and] time frames to evaluate things." Indeed, the LA Times is doing its series on Obama's first 100 days currently, despite the fact that we have a week to go. "You want to use the first 137 days?" Rothenberg asked. "Go right ahead."