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Rants & Reason

The ‘First 100 Days’

7/31/2019

An Iowa caucus delusion.

Like the proverbial bad penny or unwanted guest, an Iowa caucus question pops up from the press and the public in search of sound bites instead of sound policies: “And if elected, what would you do your first 100 days in office?”

Dutifully, the candidates for their party’s nomination each respond with lists of cure-alls.

We ignore the fact that, for some three centuries, our relatively young nation has been beset by racism, discrimination and inequality. That continues to be the case today, even as we struggle toward our Constitution’s dream of “domestic Tranquility” and “a more perfect Union.”

So, dutifully, the press and some of the public will review the candidate’s fantasy for all that will be done in his or her first 100 days in the presidency — which President Harry Truman called “the most important office of government in the history of the world.”

Read that again. Here, I’ll do it for you: “The most important office of government in the history of the world.”

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Perhaps it is small wonder then that people want sound bites about the first 100 days, sort of ignoring the other 1,350-plus days the person will be in the Oval Office — and that any other 100-day segment of a four-year term may be far more critical than the first 100 days.

The focus on the first 100 days goes to the first depression-era term of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, in response to the state of the nation, is credited with having 76 “bills passed into law” by Congress. That benchmark often is cited in discussion of the first 100 days with little mention of what the bills did or that several were found unconstitutional by the U.S Supreme Court, chief among them the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

Further, FDR did not take office until March 4, 1933, giving him almost two months lead time on his successors to make plans and shape policies. (The inauguration date was changed to Jan. 20 by the 20th Amendment, effective in 1937.) Also, some of the 76 bills attributed to FDR reflected what Republican Herbert Hoover wanted to do before
March 1933, but was said to be stymied because FDR and the Democrats wanted credit for everything.

Surprise! No one has asked me what a candidate should say in response to the first-100-days question.

Here’s what a candidate might say:

“I expect that the number of bills passed by Congress and signed into law by me in my first 100 days will be someplace between, say, the seven signed by George W. Bush, the nine signed by Presidents Nixon and Reagan and the 76 by Franklin Roosevelt. My priorities have been well stated in the campaign and on my website. As anyone successful in the November presidential election should do, I will make use of my executive powers to modify or overturn troubling and damaging executive orders issued by my predecessor — executive powers that
the electorate wants changed and has so indicated by virtue of the election.

“But, to me, more important than passing bills and issuing executive orders during the hallowed first 100 days is to lay the foundation for the next 1,361 days of my term and, I hope, the next 1,461 days I will have earned as a second term. We all know that intra-party and inter-party passions and divisiveness have been, in a word, awful — quite contrary to our Constitution’s dream of ‘domestic Tranquility’ and ‘a more perfect union.’

“To deal with those passions and divisiveness is not the work of a day or even 100 days. But — in humility and in love for this nation — may we all strive as Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address ‘to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.’ Binding up our wounds and striving toward a more perfect Union is what would drive me during my first 100 days and throughout my service as President.”

Perhaps that would be as good an answer as any you’ll find when a candidate is asked what he or she will accomplish the first 100 days in office. ♦

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.

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