President Obama will get the ritual grade for his first 100 days in office on April 29. His first days will be compared to FDR's first 100 days. And to a lesser extent JFK's first 100 days. But comparing him to these two presidents is not a fair comparison. FDR faced the worst economic crisis in American history. JFK faced no immediate foreign or domestic crisis. President Obama falls somewhere in between the two.
The better comparison is with his predecessor President Bush. He is the president whose towering White House failures helped pave the way for Obama's win. And there's some eerie similarities in the way Bush handled his first 100 days and the way Obama is handling his.
Bush got the same intense look in his first 100 days as President Obama will get in his; and for good reason. Bush's win was deeply tainted but also historic. Millions thought then and now that he bagged the White House through fraud, deceit, manipulation, and a huge helping hand from a politically compliant High Court. Obama's win was historic and tinged with racial and ideological fears.
Though the Bush legacy is truly dreadful, it wasn't that way at the start. He got the same first 100 days pass from voters that Obama and every other president has gotten. His April 2001 poll numbers topped sixty percent. This matches Obama's April numbers. A Washington Post/ABC Poll even gave Bush high marks on his handling of the economy.
Bush did what every other new president did during his first hundred days. He used the early public goodwill to make politically favorable appointments, ink executive orders and shove through Congress programs that likely would draw fire later on, clamp a vise like grip on executive power, and cast an eye on cementing his historic legacy. Obama has done the same.
Bush introduced a $1.6 trillion tax cutting program to Congress, launched a "Faith-Based" Initiative to help local charitable groups, and a catchy named "New Freedom" Initiative to help disabled Americans. In his first address to Congress, he cast himself as the education president, talked about health care reform, and made a vague promise to tackle paying off the national debt. Obama has followed pretty much the same script.
Bush worked hard to dispel the notion that he was a foreign policy boob, topped by his widely ridiculed gaffe in not knowing the name of Pakistan's president. He quickly met or talked with dozens of foreign leaders and diplomats. That included all of the Latin American leaders. The one exception was Fidel Castro. Obama also took big campaign hits for being a foreign policy novice and has moved just as quickly to meet and talk with foreign leaders. The exception again is Fidel and brother Raul.
Bush took a stab at bipartisanship when he let stand a Clinton administration rule that would expand acres of wetlands across the United States, and ended a long running trade dispute over bananas with the European Union. He hinted that he would take seriously the Kyoto accords on climate warming, reduce the use of coal burning plants, and tighten regulation on toxic chemicals in water supplies. He reneged on every one of them. But he still paid pay lip service to them. Obama has made these issues priorities too.
Obama made one of Bush's more controversial executive orders a quick casualty. That was Bush's reinstatement of the Mexico City policy denying US aid to countries that advocate abortion as a method of family planning. Anti-abortion advocates hailed him for it. Abortion advocates hailed Obama for overturning the order.
Bush's most controversial cabinet appointment was the Bible spouting, fundamentalist John Ashcroft as Attorney General. Obama picked Eric Holder as Attorney General. This also stirred some controversy over partisanship and ideology.
Bush staunchly backed a national missile defense system in Europe. So has Obama to an extent. He called a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland the most cost-effective and proven defense system. He tied the decision to go ahead with it directly to Iran's nuclear threat and international security concerns. Critics hotly disputed the need for the system when Bush backed it. They still dispute the need for it.
Near the close of his first 100 days Bush told an audience at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner that the world was a dangerous place; it was us versus them. Then he paused and admitted that he wasn't really sure who the "them" was.
Bush was wildly chaired at the dinner. America's love fest with him was still in full bloom. It didn't last. FDR, JFK's and every other president's didn't last either. President Obama will do better after his first 100 days. At least, that is, better than Bush did after his.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com