In May 1993, Time noted in the aforementioned article that:
Throughout the campaign, Clinton routinely promised a first 100 days
reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt's action-filled three-month push to lift
America from the Great Depression. No matter that the F.D.R. yardstick is
arbitrary — and even foolish given the blessed lack of a galvanizing crisis
like the one America faced in 1933.
Time’s verdict on Clinton’s first 100 days:
The Administration is clearly reeling. The impressive litany of proposals
Clinton recited last week (including new education, environmental, ethics
and welfare policies) are all works in progress. The few concrete results to
date are minor, and the public knows the difference. With the exception of
Gerald Ford (whose pardon of Richard Nixon rocked the nation), Clinton has
a disapproval rating higher than that of any other President at a comparable
point [see Figure 7]. New polls show voters prefer lower taxes and fewer
services over higher taxes for more services, a rebuke to the essence of
Figure 7. Job Approval Ratings of Presidents After (Approximately) 100 Days in Office (% who Approve)
Kennedy Eisenhower Reagan Johnson* Carter Nixon Bush (GHW) Clinton Ford
*Subsequent to Johnson’s inauguration in January, 1965
Source: Gallup, Inc.
But the magazine acknowledged that the unpopular Clinton was actually doing
what was right for the economy in terms of deficit reduction:
Clinton can be viewed as a victim of his own success. His insistence on
deficit reduction — and his cajoling of Congress to support a multiyear plan
to accomplish it — is the very definition of courage in modern American
politics…Should he then be blamed when Republicans follow his lead and
scuttle a pork-laden, deficit-increasing stimulus package whose impact on
the economy would have been marginal at best?
Nevertheless, Clinton got no immediate credit for a focus on deficit reduction,
which ultimately led to the great economic success of his presidency,
particularly in the second term. Moreover, as we noted above, the 100 day
yardstick is entirely arbitrary, and doesn’t reflect the immense challenges
facing a new President. Indeed, Time quoted Clinton as saying close to day
100 that “there's a lot I have to learn about this town.”
Similarly, an adviser observed:
He can't get the modulation right. He's not quite sure how to use his power
to press for what he wants and how to preserve it when bending is the wiser
Referring to his future opponent’s workaholic nature, Bob Dole commented in
[Clinton] needs some 40-hour weeks so everybody can catch his breath.
He's wanted to make history with his first 100 days. Well, maybe after the
100 days he can relax and we can get some steady leadership.
Things went from bad to worse for Clinton. In the 1994 elections, Republicans
won a stunning victory, and took control of both houses of Congress for the first
time since 1955. Almost everyone blamed Clinton for the Democrats’ rout:
His campaign promise to reform the nation's health care system came to
His executive order lifting the ban against homosexuals in the military
enraged conservatives, and failed to generate significant public support.
His work on behalf of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
split the Democrats, many of whom feared the loss of jobs to Mexico and
His economic package combined tax increases with spending cuts, which
hurt mainly impoverished Americans.
In that regard, we pointed out in “Left Turn?” that:
Bill Clinton learned the hard way in his first two years as president that, even
with the Democrats controlling Congress, it was tough to push a “liberal”
agenda in Washington. His political fortunes began to improve early in
1996, when he proclaimed “the era of big government is over.” By reacting
to the political environment of the day and posing as “a New Democrat, an
Old Democrat, and [ultimately], in effect, a moderate Republican” (as the
Economist pointed out16 in 1996), Clinton created a very favorable
environment for investors [italics added].
Indeed, a recent article17 by economist Arthur Laffer in The Wall Street Journal
highlighted that Clinton ultimately carried on where Ronald Reagan had left off:
President Clinton signed into law welfare reform, so people actually have to
look for a job before being eligible for welfare. He ended the "retirement
test" for Social Security benefits (a huge tax cut for elderly workers), pushed
the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress against his
union supporters and many of his own party members, signed the largest
capital gains tax cut ever (which exempted owner-occupied homes from
capital gains taxes), and finally reduced government spending as a share of
GDP by an amazing three percentage points (more than the next four best
presidents combined). The stock market loved Mr. Clinton as it had loved
Reagan, and for good reasons [italics added].
So, from Reagan through George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W.