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Obama Faces 100 Days Test


President Barack Obama is going through a rite of political passage this week - he is marking his first 100 days in office. The significance of the 100 days marker goes back to the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, who assumed power at the height of the Great Depression in 1933, and his first priority was reassuring the public that better days were ahead.

"You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear," he said.

Roosevelt was a master communicator and the first president to make effective use of the radio to build public support.

Roosevelt's ambitious legislative program aimed at reviving the economy and his decisive leadership style remain the gold standard for how a new president takes charge in the first 100 days in office.

Other presidents had to cope with domestic and foreign policy stumbles in their first 100 days.

In 1961, President John Kennedy took responsibility for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion involving U.S.-supported Cuban exiles trying to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro.

For Kennedy, it was an early political setback for a president untested on the world stage.

"On that unhappy island, as in some many other arenas in the contest for freedom, the news has grown worse instead of better," he said.

President Barack Obama faced an incredibly daunting economic situation in his first 100 days in office.

In some ways, Mr. Obama has modeled his initial approach in office on that of Franklin Roosevelt, mindful of Roosevelt's ability to communicate with the public and convey harsh realities and hope at the same time.

"By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time, we are beginning to see glimmers of hope," he said.

Journalists and political experts are spending a lot of time evaluating Mr. Obama's first 100 days in office, even though many of them acknowledge the 100 days mark is an arbitrary number.

Stephen Hess is a political scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington:

"It is a useful way to assess each individual president, not in historical terms, but just looking back and saying how have they gotten off the ground," said Hess.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the president's early and continuing popularity is in large part due to Mr. Obama's ability to convince voters that he is willing to tackle the nation's economic problems head-on.

"You have to say the one thing that he has done is he has brought a fresh spirit to the American public, a sense of at least partial relief that the government is trying to turn the economy around, is hands-on, understands people's problems, and that is really important," Rothenberg said.

Opposition Republicans accuse the president of wanting to follow a far-left economic and social agenda, and they warn that his government spending plans will result in a huge jump in the national debt.

But analyst Rothenberg says so far, Mr. Obama has been able to deflect some of the partisan criticism.

"The strengths are clearly his personal ability to communicate with people, to communicate with the American public and to motivate and to change the mood in the country. And he has done a good job, I think, in trying to reach out to all Americans and not running a particularly partisan presidency, at least in rhetoric," he added.

But Republicans also complain that Mr. Obama has so far failed to follow through on his campaign promise to change the political tone in Washington and reach out to the opposition party.

That complaint may be highlighted in the next 100 days and beyond as the president moves to tackle politically divisive issues like health care reform and energy independence.

Brookings Institution expert Stephen Hess says Mr. Obama should push as much of his agenda as he can early on to maximize his political leverage.

"This is a good way to proceed because a president is never as popular and never has as much public support as when he first gets elected, otherwise it's like an hourglass with the sand running out, so take advantage of that honeymoon knowing full well that you are not nearly going to get all that you propose," he said.

President Obama enjoys solid public support as he marks his first 100 days in office. The latest New York Times-CBS News poll shows his approval rating at 68 percent, while a Washington Post-ABC News poll registered his approval at 69 percent.
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