Bloomberg: Obama's Next 1,000 Days

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is probably enjoying a good laugh at our continuing fascination with a president's first 100 days, perhaps the most meaningless yardstick in all of government. Many of the legislative achievements of Roosevelt's first 100 days have long been forgotten, and one we do remember—the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to guarantee bank deposits—was strenuously opposed by FDR.

What we most remember about Roosevelt's first 100 days was the optimistic, confident, can-do spirit he brought to the White House—the determination to do something. And if it didn't work, to do something else. That strong sense of pragmatism remained the defining characteristic of FDR's entire presidency, and we have been seeing echoes of it from President Obama. On the home front, he has had an extraordinary number of fires to put out: figuring out plans to stem the tide of housing foreclosures, salvage the auto companies, stabilize the banks and spur consumer spending and business activity. On the international stage, in addition to the fallout from a global financial meltdown, he has been immediately confronted with complex diplomatic and military decisions affecting the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea and other areas around the world.

Most analyses of Obama's first 100 days take stock of the legislation he has passed, executive orders he has signed and policy changes he has adopted. Have they been bold enough (the banks and the stimulus plan)? Tough enough (foreign policy)? Wise enough (Guantánamo detainees)? Responsible enough (trillion-dollar deficits)? Only time will tell, and undoubtedly adjustments will have to be made. But the questions are all wrong. To get a real sense of whether the president's first 100 days were successful, we need to consider how they have positioned him for the next 1,300 days. And to do that, we have to ask different questions.

Did he pick a team based on merit or politics? Whether in business or in government, the single most important thing a new chief executive can do in his first months on the job is to hire the most talented and innovative leaders and set high expectations of them. When I was first elected mayor of New York in 2001, a time when the city was mired in a fiscal crisis and still reeling from the attacks on the World Trade Center, reporters asked me to outline my agenda for the first 100 days. They were not happy with my answer: I said I was going to assemble the best possible team and begin planning for the next 1,300 days. That didn't make for great headlines, but it allowed us to look past the 24-hour news cycle and begin building a foundation for long-term recovery and growth.

Even though executives get all the credit for success and all the blame for failure—it's not fair, but that's the way it is—the reality is that chief executives of large organizations only occasionally come up with groundbreaking ideas on their own (no matter what some of them may like us to believe). The most successful chief executives are those who give their staff members space to be creative, and then put them through their paces—challenging their ideas by asking the toughest questions and demanding they back up their recommendations with supporting data.

President Obama has selected a superbly talented team, and I am not just saying that because many of them are from New York. (Though that doesn't hurt: Shaun Donovan, my former housing commissioner, was a brilliant choice for secretary of housing and urban development.) He hired first-rate public servants, including some of the finest minds in finance. Will Americans agree with Tim Geithner and Larry Summers on everything? Of course not. Finance has become like football—we all think we know better than the coach, and we all engage in Monday-morning quarterbacking. That's a healthy thing for a democracy: citizens should have opinions about economic policies. But as we battle our way out of the global recession, we could hardly ask for a more capable team than Geithner, Summers and Ben Bernanke. And the president, like the best head coaches, is directing the game plan but not drawing up every play.

Is he looking for easy victories or taking on the toughest battles? Management gurus love to tell incoming executives to "pick the low-hanging fruit first." I couldn't disagree more. When I became mayor, my administration lived by the opposite maxim: do the hard things first. And so in year one, we raised property taxes, prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants and closed several firehouses to spread resources and manpower more effectively and efficiently. Mr. Popularity I was not, and my approval rating sank into the 20s. But here's what happened: we turned record budget deficits into record surpluses; improved services, including faster response times to fires; increased business in bars and restaurants; and grew the overall economy. And the public came to respect us for making the tough decisions.

I am certain that President Obama has heard from friends or advisers who tell him to hold off on tackling the really big issues. And it is incredibly encouraging that he seems to be ignoring them. He is moving to pass health-care reform—this year. In 1993, President Clinton made health-care reform an immediate priority, but the debate on the plan didn't begin in earnest until 1994, an election year. Everything is harder in an election year. The Obama administration has learned from that experience and is working closely with congressional leaders to expedite the legislation. What shape it will take is impossible to know. But the important thing is that the president is throwing down the gantlet and saying: "The time is now." And he's indicated that immigration and climate change will also be priorities. But can he actually pass any of this? And that brings us to the next question.

Is he bridging the partisan divide? There was much made of the paltry number of Republicans in Congress who supported the stimulus bill. The president's effort to reach across the aisle didn't win many Republicans, but it won enough. In theory, getting congressional Republicans to sign on to a spending plan should not have been so difficult, given their free-spending ways when they were in the majority. But it is easy to oppose something in Washington when you don't have to deal with the real-world consequences. That's why many Republican and independent mayors and governors supported the stimulus bill. We tend to be far less interested in ideological warfare, because we have to balance budgets and provide core services.

Moving forward, local and state leaders can be effective allies for the president on issues that polarize Washington, if we have a seat at the bargaining table. We can help keep the debate focused on workable solutions rather than partisan politics, and we can help persuade more Republicans to stay at the table and take the best deal they can get, rather than shout from the sidelines as a filibuster-proof majority rams legislation down their throats.

The president deserves credit for signing bipartisan national-service legislation last month, which was an important plank of his campaign platform. And Republicans deserve credit for putting patriotism above partisanship. There have been other hopeful signs, too, on bills tackling predatory housing lending and financial fraud, for instance. Extending that spirit of cooperation to more-controversial issues—like health care, immigration and climate change—will not be easy. But by more aggressively cultivating support from state and local Republicans and independents, it may just be possible.

Is he embracing innovation? The most powerful force in Washington is a chief executive's most dangerous enemy: inertia. President Obama campaigned on a promise to change the way Washington works. Changing the culture of a business is hard enough; changing the culture of our nation's capital is a colossal undertaking. Reaching across the aisle is a good start, but what good is bipartisanship if it fails to challenge the status quo? The only way to change Washington and the country is to champion the most promising and innovative policies, no matter which side of the aisle they come from, and no matter which interest groups oppose them.

On the issue that cries out for innovative federal leadership more than any other—public education—the president and Arne Duncan, his education secretary, have been refreshingly candid. And they're asking all the right questions: Why shouldn't we reward the most effective teachers and those who teach in the toughest schools? Why shouldn't we raise standards? Why shouldn't we promote greater school choice and competition through charter schools? Why shouldn't we require districts to grade every school and give parents more information about how their child's school stacks up against others?

The federal stimulus package included an "innovation fund" to promote these and other policies, which have been central to our success in New York. It's an encouraging first step. But making wholesale improvements will require Washington to offer cities and states more carrots and sticks to adopt these reforms.

Is he improving confidence in America's global leadership? America's power on the global stage is measured not only by our military might, but also by the confidence other nations have in our leadership in meeting the global challenges of the 21st century. Rightly or wrongly, that confidence has suffered, and as a result, our power has suffered. Restoring it has required the president to make fence-mending a top priority of his foreign trips, and for good reason: we need more foreign countries to contribute more troops and resources to hot spots around the world and to do more to clamp down on nuclear proliferators and terrorists. The closer we can draw our friends and allies in, the more we can ask them to share the burdens of international security, which is only appropriate.

To keep America safe, the president understands that the United States must lead the world in forging solutions to our common threats, and he has hit the ground running: sending more troops to Afghanistan, working to secure stability in Pakistan, exploring new approaches to Iran and pressing for peace in Darfur, as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors. At the same time, the president's decision to allow our Navy SEALs to take out the Somali pirates sent a strong signal—to all pirates and the entire international community—that he will not hesitate to authorize force when American lives and interests are threatened.

The history books will not likely record many events from President Obama's first 100 days, other than the inauguration itself, a truly historic day for our nation. But by using his 100 days wisely, he has positioned himself to achieve what he set out to do when he began his campaign: bring real change to America, and to the world. There will be plenty of tests ahead, and no doubt some setbacks and disappointments. But if he isn't afraid to throw traditional political calculations out the window—and risk seeing his poll numbers plunge into the 20s—he will earn many more long-term victories, and deeper respect and support from voters. And he may even end up earning a spot alongside FDR in the history books.

Bloomberg: Obama's Next 1,000 Days | U.S.