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5 myths about a president's first year

The problem with treating the first year as a be-all and end-all? It ain't necessarily so. Ronald Reagan overhauled the country's tax code six years into his presidency, and Bush signed a bill regulating the accounting industry -- the Sarbanes-Oxley Act -- in the summer of 2002.

The best predictor of legislative momentum isn't the political calendar but the events that motivate public cries for action.

Your party's base abandons you.

3.

The bases of the two parties don't understand or care much about the sausage-making aspects of how policy is constructed in Washington. They want action and they want it now.

And so when Obama didn't manage to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq, reform the health-care system and abandon the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military (among other things) in his first week in office, there was consternation within the Democratic base.

But that consternation rarely turns into large-scale abandonment. President Jimmy Carter was widely disliked among the party's base following his victory in 1976 -- so much so that Sen. Ted Kennedy challenged him in 1980. Carter still won. Clinton's "Third Way" centrism didn't sit well with the party's base but he still was reelected in 1996 and party liberals became his staunchest defenders during impeachment proceedings.

Ultimately, members of the base come to understand that they are better off with a president who agrees with them most if not all of the time than one from the opposite party who will work against their priorities.

The first 100 days don't really matter.

4The first 100 days do matter, and for one simple reason: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The transition from candidate to president turns out to be difficult for even the most skilled politician. At precisely the moment when all eyes are on the new commander in chief, the ideas and optimism of the campaign trail crash into the reality of how things are done in Washington.

Famously influential first 100 days like those of Roosevelt, who used his initial few months in office to grow government at a rapid rate to try to pull the country out of the Great Depression, and Reagan, whose first 100 days were dominated by an effort to undo many of the government-growing policies put in place five decades before by Roosevelt, were marked by intense activity, broad change and wide-ranging political consequences.

The Obama presidency began with a flurry of accomplishments -- passage of a $787 billion economic stimulus package, approval of his $3.6 trillion budget and the allocation of money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to bail out the nation's banks -- that shaped everything that came after.


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