Much has been made of FDR's and Obama's first hundred days in office. It was Roosevelt who popularized the hundred day milestone: it marked the passage of the initial New Deal legislation and the conclusion of the special session of Congress that accomplished all that. One thing Roosevelt got that Obama didn't was broad bipartisan support. Obama aimed for that goal. Instead the left is leftier and the right plays to its base more than ever.
Here is an fascinating piece of history that illuminates the Roosevelt administration at the same moment in its history: FDR's twin thank-you letters to congress upon completion of the 100-days legislative initiative. FDR was inaugurated on March 4th, so his hundred days occurred in June.
On June 15th he sent these letters to Congress as it completed its special session: the document (above) which Speaker Henry R. Rainey read to the special session, and a brief handwritten note to the speaker asking him to thank the congress.
Before the adjournment of the Special Session, I want to convey to you and the members of the House of Representatives, and expression of my thanks for making possible, on the broad average, a more sincere and more whole hearted cooperation between the Legislative and the Executive branches of the United States Government than has been witnessed by the American people in many a long year.
This spirit of team-work has in most cases transcended party lines. It has taken cognizance of a crisis in the affairs of our nation and of the world. It has grasped the need for a new approach to our problems both new and old. It has proved that our form of government can rise to an emergency and carry through a broad program in record time.
My grandfather, Modie Spiegel, was an avid collector of American historical letters and acquired these in the 1960s. I was a tot back then, but even as a kid I realized this was pretty cool historic stuff. And history it was until history began repeating itself. Suddenly we found ourselves in uncomfortably similar circumstances with a similar need for extraordinary leadership. FDR's words went from a piece of history to timely --- and a playbook to learn from. My friend (and grade school classmate!) Jonathan Alter at Newsweek has chronicled FDR's leadership efforts as he came to office. He points out that only three Presidents in our history accomplished so much in so little time: FDR, LBJ and Obam. Alter writes:
"Crisis leadership is, above all, about restoring confidence. Just as FDR got the country believing again in capitalism and democracy, Obama is so far making good on his pledge to navigate in a new direction. The people are responding. From January to April, the percentage of Americans saying the country is on the "right track" went up 23 points under Obama."
And, one could add, Obama is connecting with the American people despite a legislative environment more polarized than ever. Roosevelt pulled off his hundred days with a 72% Democratic Congress. Obama has only 60%. Its a testament to the Presdient's leadership and to the strengths of our system that Obama can claim, as Roosevelt wrote 76 years ago, "That our form of government can rise to an emergency and carry through a broad program in record time..."