100 Days. Presidents have a 100 days honeymoon to act on their strongest priorities.
Presidential historians know it. As White House correspondent and presidential author Kenneth T. Walsh wrote in 2009,
The underlying truth is that presidents tend to be most effective when they first take office, when their leadership style seems fresh and new, when the aura of victory is still powerful, and when their impact on Congress is usually at its height. There is nothing magic about the number, and many presidential aides over the years have complained that it is an artificial yardstick. But it has been used by the public, the media, and scholars as a gauge of presidential success and activism since Franklin D. Roosevelt pioneered the 100-day concept when he took office in 1933.
Of course some big changes can occur outside that window (see the landmark Affordable Care Act of 2010), but with an opposition Congress facing him, 100 days is the most potent window of time President Barack Obama has.
The House Republicans know it. Indeed, one big reason they delayed the debt ceiling vote until May was to run out the clock on President Obama's first 100 days and wait until Barack Obama's Inauguration honeymoon was over to pick a fight with him over priorities like investments in jobs, tax reform, immigration reform and gun safety.
The NRA knows it. They would like nothing better than to run out the clock so that the public will not have the chance to organize.
But we the people know it, too. And this time, in these first 100 days, the dynamic is different -- especially on the gun safety issue. Americans are mobilized in a way we were not after Aurora and Tuscon and Ft. Hood and Virginia Tech and Oak Creek. Something changed with Sandy Hook.
Millions of Americans looking at pictures of sobbing children fleeing Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 had the same mixture of horror and relief: horror for the families and relief for our own children, safe (temporarily) from immediate harm. That night we hugged our kids a little tighter and questioned our school policies to make sure our kids would be safer than those in Newtown.
Nearly 5 weeks and an estimated 1,220 gun deaths later, we are still mobilizing to act. Two days ago, I sat in the Democratic National Committee Resolutions Committee proposing that the Democratic Party officially support action steps to prevent gun violence. An elementary school principal spoke of an ongoing threat to her life, a young man from a Second Amendment family in Colorado said gun safety won't change the outdoorsman lifestyle, and I thanked labor union leaders for supporting action even though we are told, "if we act on guns we will lose votes" because "if we don't act on guns we will lose lives." Between the Resolutions meeting and the DNC's general session, a Houston Community College suffered from gunmen shooting four people and terrifying thousands more. Rather than desensitizing us to violence, the new events took us right back to Sandy Hook and catalyzed us to action.
Why is Sandy Hook different? Why will these 100 days be different? Perhaps it was the slaughter of innocents. Perhaps it was that it occurred at the cusp of a new Congress and a new administration with a fresh start and no excuses. Perhaps it was the uprising of parents who finally said "you know we believe we have to do something different -- we can't go on living in fear that we will get a horrible call and know with gut-wrenching truth that we could have done more to save our kids."
Whatever the reason, we are here in the first of President Obama's 100 days and we have to make a difference -- because the status quo's best ally is indifference.
We have a small opening, an aperture in public consciousness, that we must expand into a national collective action. With blue state California Senator Dianne Feinstein introducing an Assault Weapons Ban and red state West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin -- who fired a rifle at a copy of the cap and trade bill in a campaign ad -- writing a bill for background checks(interview at 1:22; comments at 1:30), a national wave is turning the tide for an instant.
So we must act now.
There are those who will say that we should not legislate on passion -- that even saying 100 days is too little time for reasoned debate. Give me a break. Legislating -- like parenting -- is not an either/or proposition. Both require emotional touchstones and dispassionate rules. Anyone dealing with the temper tantrums of a politician or a toddler knows how futile passion can be absent its temperance with objective boundaries. Indeed, balancing passion with prudence as parents equips many to be effective as politicians. The politicians know the gun issues -- most of them ran having filled out questionnaires on the Constitution, on gun safety, on school safety and law enforcement.
So we come to the gun safety debate, and the question of whether we must act on the passions of our touchstones or the cold calculating reason of facts and statistics. I say we can and must act with both.
We must flex our political muscle and not let the NRA run out the clock on President Obama's 100 days. We must pick up the phone and call Congress at 202-224-3121. Members are perfectly competent to become educated -- we will not let people who run for office telling us how smart they are suddenly tell us they cannot do their homework or suddenly have to study. We hired them to walk and chew gum at the same time -- to balance passion and prudence just like we do in everyday life -- so we must hold them accountable to doing their jobs.
We must urge Congress to act now. President Obama's first 100 days must include gun safety measures. The lives we honor -- and the children we save -- will be our legacy.