The First Hundred Days: FDR He is Not

Donald Lambro

4/29/2009 12:01:00 AM - Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The national news media has been treating Barack Obama's first 100 days as a historical landmark, as if he's done great things instead of doing what we routinely expect from our presidents.

That is, to submit the major items on his campaign agenda to Congress for its approval that hasn't been very hard to get, considering his party has majority control of both chambers. Try getting your agenda, including the biggest tax cut in history, through a House controlled by the opposition party. Ronald Reagan did it against great odds as the economy sank into the worst recession since the Great Depression, and faced down the Evil Empire in the Cold War, to boot.

Obama also faces a nation plunging into a severe recession and two wars in distant lands. Congress has trimmed and passed his economic-recovery spending bill, enacted last year's leftover omnibus appropriations package, and has all but adopted his budget proposals with modifications.

But the vexing problems he came into office to fix not only remain, they have worsened -- and his job-approval polls have been sinking.

Unemployment continues its upward climb and will likely skirt 9 percent next week, and the economy continues to shrink. Mortgage foreclosures are rising, home values are falling, Obama's prescriptions for what ails us will add $9 trillion to the nation's debts, and government accountants say only a relatively small portion of the infrastructure stimulus funds will be spent before this year is over.

Abroad, Al Qaeda in Iraq has begun a new offensive to test Obama's mettle; the Taliban terrorists are resurgent in Afghanistan, threatening that country's tenuous democracy and flexing their muscles in Pakistan where a takeover would put nuclear weapons into their hands. Iran is becoming a threatening nuclear power. North Korea is close to developing medium-range missile capabilities.

Obama went to the economic summit in Europe to ask -- make that beg -- the G-20 industrial powers to pump billions more into their economies and to send combat troops into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. He came home empty-handed on both counts.

The administration is closing Guantanamo prison without any decision on where we will put the most dangerous terrorists on the face of the earth. He banned aggressive interrogation and released classified memos -- against the advice of high-level intelligence officials -- that spelled out in minute detail how they are carried out, giving Al Qaeda and Taliban cutthroats critical information about how to withstand such practices.

The White House and Democrats have pounded former Vice President Dick Cheney for having the temerity to say Obama's actions have endangered U.S. national security, but it appears that a majority of the Americans agree with him.

A Pew Research Center poll reported last week that nearly half of Americans surveyed said torturing terrorists is often or sometimes justified. A 54 percent majority of independents agreed.

A Gallup Poll reported this week that a 55 percent majority now think "the use of harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects was justified." Among those who said they have followed the issue closely, 61 percent said such methods were justified.

Obama remains personally popular, but his job-approval polls have been steadily declining -- unusual for a president this early in his tenure. When Gallup asked 1,051 Americans last week how they would rate the job the president is doing, just 33 percent said good rather than excellent (23 percent). This compared with 23 percent who said "just OK," 9 percent who said "poor," and 11 percent who said "terrible." Two percent offered no opinion.

The continuing decline in his job-approval scores has been stunning for someone who hasn't been in office that long. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll on Feb. 7-Feb. 8 gave him a 76 percent rating. By April 23-April 26, his score had fallen to 63 percent, a 13 percent decline in less than three months.

Gallup's 56 percent excellent/good job-approval score showed an even deeper decline.

The Politico Web site last week compared the average approval scores of Obama (62 percent) with his four predecessors. He did no better than George W. Bush, who was at 62 percent at this time. Bill Clinton's score was 55 percent, while George H.W. Bush stood at 58 percent. All of them paled to Reagan, however, whose average approval rating at this juncture hit 83 percent.

Barack Obama still has a lot to prove and to begin appraising his work at the 100-day mark may be premature. His numbers will no doubt rise and fall in the months and years to come.

But for the national news media to suggest that his first 100 days are in some way comparable to FDR's whirlwind beginning is sophomoric and silly. This is not the Great Depression, not even close. Other presidents have led us out of recessions, and the test for this president is whether he can do the same without bankrupting the country for a generation.

What should be obvious, though, is that Obama is losing his support as more Americans are beginning to doubt that he knows what he's doing.