Franke: Biden’s 100 Days of Missed Opportunity

April 30, 2021

“At the very moment our adversaries were certain we would pull apart and fail, we came together. United. With light and hope, we summoned new strength and new resolve.” — Joe Biden’s address to Congress, April 28, 2021

by Mark Franke

Joe Biden has officially completed his first 100 days in office, an artificial but important benchmark to judge a new presidency. It is a yardstick to grade the new president’s legislative success under the assumption that he will have his highest level of political support right out of the gate.

The term was coined by Franklin Roosevelt to publicize an ambitious list of legislative actions he proposed as antidotes to the woes of the Depression. He first used the term in a radio address, taking advantage of this new communication medium to sell his agenda to the nation. And to sell it to a Congress that contained opponents on both the left and the right.

He got Congress to pass 76 bills, 15 of them major in scope, during these 100 days, a number that is both amazing given today’s gridlock and frightening to those of us who despair of relentless government bloat with its concomitant assault on individual liberty.

So what’s the deal with the first 100 days as opposed to any other arbitrary period of time? I guess it has a nice cachet, which pundits like.

I have vague recollections of the term being used in 1961 with John Kennedy’s inauguration. I was in grade school back then and mostly attracted to or perhaps distracted by the Camelot images pushed by an adoring media. Unfortunately for Kennedy, about the only thing remembered now from his first 100 days is the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Moving into my adult years, I don’t remember the term being used much although it could have been when Bill Clinton announced his massive government health plan. That didn’t pass, at least not in 1993. 

Ronald Reagan entered office with an ambitious plan for his first 100 days. He didn’t have much success initially with that, at least to the disappointment of this pro-Reagan voter, but eventually he did accomplish three of his major initiatives: elimination of runaway inflation, significant tax cuts to stimulate a recessionary economy and a military buildup that pushed the Soviet Union onto the “ash heap of history.”

We heard the term again when Barack Obama, another media darling, took office. He didn’t have all that much success either, other than getting a stimulus package passed for “shovel-ready” projects which stimulated more pork being barbecued than dirt being turned. Later there was Obamacare, all 906 pages, which eventually passed although in an unpublished version until after the vote. This was followed by over 33,000 pages of federal regulations, but who’s counting?

By historical standards Joe Biden hasn’t done too badly in comparison to his predecessors. Congress stands ready and willing to pass any spending bill that can be fobbed off as stimulus and the Federal Reserve is willing to crank up the dollar printing presses as necessary. He opened the southern border to increased immigration while successfully deflecting the resultant problems to somebody else, apparently to be determined at a later date. He has cranked out executive orders at a truly impressive rate, should you like government by White House fiat.

From Biden’s perspective he can take pride in his first 100 days.

My perspective is different.

I didn’t expect to like most of his actions and proposals. I simply hoped that he would honor his campaign speech and inaugural address promise to unite the nation. He assured us he would “be a president who does not seek to divide, but unify.” This meant to my way of thinking that he would not be slave to the most extreme faction in a party increasingly under the control of extremists. 

So which of his actions were undertaken to unify rather than reinforce division? I can’t think of any. Since Biden himself emphasized his goal was unification, one can’t but conclude that he failed his 100 day test using his own standard.

I wrote back in January that this could be Joe Biden’s hour if he truly believed what he said about unifying. Most of my acquaintances told me that I was being naïve, if not delusional. Naïve, certainly. Delusional, not really as I wasn’t taking any bets.

All I wanted to do was give Biden a chance. I can’t say I am surprised that he didn’t avail himself of this opportunity. 

Not surprised, just saddened. And fearful of what the remaining 1,460 days will bring.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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