Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Presidential Style And 100 Days

On the occasion of Barack Obama's 100th day as President of the United States, points out that on April 29, 2001, The New York Times ran a mostly favorable editorial about George W. Bush's first 100 days. Although the editorial board now recognizes the failure of the Bush presidency, on that day exactly ten years ago readers of the Times learned

his sunny self-confidence, even his penchant for bankers' hours and long weekends, seems to sit well with many Americans. It is a relief, they seem to be saying, to have a president who is not so tiring and omnipresent as Mr. Clinton.

And how did that "penchant for bankers' hours and long weekends" work out? A little walk down memory lane is helpful:

January 25, 2001: Counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke "urgently" (his term) requests of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice a Principals Committee meeting to discuss the threat from Al Qaeda; then turns over to Rice a memo (with two Clinton-era documents about Al Qaeda attached) which urged "an immediate meeting of the National Security Council's Principals Committee to discuss broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda by giving counterterrorism aid to the Northern Alliance and Uzbekistan, expanding the counterterrorism budget and responding to the U.S.S. Cole attack."

August 4, 2001: President Bush goes to Crawford, Texas to begin a month-long vacation, where he alternates between clearing brush and contemplating stem cell research. As USA today explained on 8/3/01:

Six months after taking office, President Bush will begin a month-long vacation Saturday that is significantly longer than the average American's annual getaway. If Bush returns as scheduled on Labor Day, he'll tie the modern record for presidential absence from the White House, held by Richard Nixon at 30 days.

August 6, 2001: President Bush receives Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." Bush listens and tells the CIA briefer "All right. You've covered your ass, now." (Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine)

September 4, 2001: The first Principals Committee meeting regarding Al Qaeda of the Bush presidency takes place, only seven days before the deadly terrorist attacks.

This is not only evidence of the benefit of having a president more interested in the affairs of the nation than in vacations. Back in their April, 2001 editorial, the NYT commented

We are not among those who complain that the tradition of measuring the first hundred days of a presidency has turned into an empty ritual. It is a convenient way to demarcate a period in which a new chief executive and the American people learn things that cannot emerge in the campaign vortex. The glimpses we get often can be valuable and even prophetic.

And the editors concluded:

We remain optimistic that Mr. Bush will continue in his basically sound approach to foreign policy and trade. And we remain hopeful that he will grow in compassion for average Americans and his sensitivity to the environment.

Given how (horrifically) the Bush presidency evolved, this should have been a cautionary tale to the traditional- and new- media about vesting importance in the arbitrary demarcation of 100 days. We know little if anything about the long-term, or even short-term, consequences of the Obama economic plan. And dangers lurk in Afghanistan, the Middle East, south Asia and elsewhere, to which the President and his advisers will respond effectively, or otherwise. One hundred days or not, it is unlikely we have seen either the best or the worst of the Obama presidency.

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