You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Obama's Roosevelt-esque 100 Days

One of my favorite professors from college, Patrick Maney (now of Boston College), had a sharp Boston Globe op-ed a few weeks back. Maney, the author a terrific FDR biography, reminds us that even FDR didn't pull off FDR's first 100 days:

The problem with the 100 days paradigm is that it obscures the vital role played by Congress - Republicans as well as Democrats - in crafting the First New Deal. It's too FDR-centric, what with Roosevelt and his brain trust bending a pliant Congress to their will within months of taking power. ...

As often as not, Congress, not Roosevelt, forced the action. Of the 15 major bills that constitute the First New Deal, most originated in Congress and many had legislative histories predating Roosevelt's assumption of power. There were even some key measures FDR initially opposed. ...

It is true that most measures passed in record time and with a minimum of debate. But that's because most legislators, having debated the issues for so long, had already made up their minds. No early New Deal measure touched the lives of more hungry and jobless Americans than the Federal Emergency Relief Act. But an almost identical measure had been under almost continuous consideration since 193l, when a bipartisan group, led by Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette Jr., first introduced it. By the time FDR assumed office, federal relief to the unemployed was a forgone conclusion. ...

Of course, Roosevelt was a presidential giant. But his real genius lay in inspiration, not legislation. He was a kind of Wizard of Oz, infusing Congress and the public with the confidence to do what they had been capable of doing all along.

Interestingly, this seems reasonably close to the model Obama's been following (and which Republicans have complained about bitterly). My sense is that, unlike the rest of us, the White House has read its New Deal history.

--Noam Scheiber