Is FDR-Era Yardstick Still Relevant?





It was March 4, 1933, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was being sworn in as president after his Democratic Party assumed control of the levers of power in a country deeply troubled by a historic economic collapse.

Over the next 3 1/2 months, he would amass a slew of legislative victories, help set in motion the recovery from the Great Depression and establish a new yardstick for chief executives.

Roosevelt accomplished so much during his first 100 days in office, presidential historians have said, that the period soon became the common barometer by which future presidents -- including Barack Obama -- would be measured.

"After the first 100 days of FDR, because so much happened, not only the laws he got passed, but he had changed the mood of the country so they felt more positive and he set the tone for what would become the administration . . . it's part of our culture to be measuring this," said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. "It's the first measuring mark."

But as critics view President Obama's record through the 100-day prism, some historians are questioning whether the measuring point has any value.

Historian Ron Chernow, who has written biographies of Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller, said it is unfair to compare the early months of any president, including Obama's, to those of Roosevelt.

"When FDR became president, the economic situation was so dire that there was a quasi-revolutionary atmosphere in the country," Chernow said. "So I think that that becomes an unfair yardstick by which to judge Obama. In 1933, what was ideologically possible was much greater than today simply because the degree of despair was much greater. People really don't know how far they want to push reform or how deep-seated the problems are in the country."





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