Clinton's First 100 Days in 1993
Bill Long 10/8/06
People tend to forget that Bill Clinton, in his first, term, was not a "majority" winner. Of course he won more than a majority in the Electoral College, but he received only 43% of the popular vote in 1992. George Bush garnered 37% and Ross Perot, that straight-talking but strange and potentially demagogic guy with the large ears, got 20%. Dissatisfaction with George Bush, whom the country had been supporting with 85% approval ratings in January 1991, after the invasion of Iraq, had become acute. America was mired in a recession and George just didn't seem to "get it."
One question during the second Presidential debate (October 15, 1992), where "real" Americans asked questions, seemed to fluster and disarm the President. A woman asked: "How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives?" Perot answered that it had driven him to run for office. Clinton, speaking third, advanced toward his questioner and told her that he knew by name people who had lost jobs in this recession, and he pointed to a "failed economic theory" (supply side economics) as the culprit. President Bush had a difficult time explaining himself. Many people feel that his answer, actually "sunk" his candidacy. Here is the exchange in full, with "Simpson" being the moderator Carole Simpson of ABC News.
BUSH: Well, I think the national debt affects everybody.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: You personally.
BUSH: Obviously it has a lot to do with interest rates --
SIMPSON: She's saying, "you personally"
AUDIENCE QUESTION: You, on a personal basis -- how has it affected you?
SIMPSON: Has it affected you personally?
BUSH: I'm sure it has. I love my grandchildren --
AUDIENCE QUESTION: How?
BUSH: I want to think that they're going to be able to afford an education. I think that that's an important part of being a parent. If the question -- maybe I -- get it wrong. Are you suggesting that if somebody has means that the national debt doesn't affect them?
AUDIENCE QUESTION: What I'm saying is --
BUSH: I'm not sure I get -- help me with the question and I'll try to answer it.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Well, I've had friends that have been laid off from jobs.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I know people who cannot afford to pay the mortgage on their homes, their car payment. I have personal problems with the national debt. But how has it affected you and if you have no experience in it, how can you help us, if you don't know what we're feeling?
SIMPSON: I think she means more the recession -- the economic problems today the country faces rather than the deficit.
BUSH: Well, listen, you ought to be in the White House for a day and hear what I hear and see what I see and read the mail I read and touch the people that I touch from time to time. I was in the Lomax AME Church. It's a black church just outside of Washington, DC. And I read in the bulletin about teenage pregnancies, about the difficulties that families are having to make ends meet. I talk to parents. I mean, you've got to care. Everybody cares if people aren't doing well.
But I don't think it's fair to say, you haven't had cancer. Therefore, you don't know what's it like. I don't think it's fair to say, you know, whatever it is, that if you haven't been hit by it personally. But everybody's affected by the debt because of the tremendous interest that goes into paying on that debt everything's more expensive. Everything comes out of your pocket and my pocket. So it's that.
But I think in terms of the recession, of course you feel it when you're president of the US. And that's why I'm trying to do something about it by stimulating the export, vesting more, better education systems.
Thank you. I'm glad you clarified it.
How do you spell "Out-of-Touch?" George Herbert Walker Bush had just further defined the term.
Setting an Image
Clinton was elected for a number of reasons, but one of them was his ability to convince many people that the economic policies of the 1980s had helped not only drive up enormous budget deficits but had further concentrated wealth in the hands of rich people. He meant to change that.
In the month before he took office on January 20, 1993, Clinton did three things to project an "image" of himself that led to unrealistic expectations of quick accomplishment. My thesis is that he, eventually, was able to "right" his ship, but that his first 100 days was not a success principally because he raised our expectations too high. How did he do so?
1. His "economic summit" in Little Rock in December 1992. This summit was a two-day meeting of more than 300 specially invited business, union and academic leaders but was really designed, in my estimation, to focus on how great a grasp Clinton had on economic realities. He was to be a "policy wonk" President, who could wow the likes of John Scully at Apple (a Republican) as well as Democratic Union leaders. We in the hinterlands only heard bits and pieces of the conference, but we were led to believe that we had a whiz kid here who would quickly cure our economic woes.
2. On January 17, 1993, a Sunday, Clinton and Gore, along with many supporters, made a 120-mile journey by bus from Charlottesville, VA to Washington, DC. The symbolism of this trip is evident once you know that they left from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. Here was a young man (Clinton was 46) who was not only claming to stand in democratic tradition of Jefferson but who was, as it were, trying to become a Jefferson redivivus. But just as one needs but one spouse, America really only needed one Thomas Jefferson.
3. On January 18, in Washington DC., Clinton hosted a lunch at the Folger Shakespeare Library for 53 people whom he called his "Faces of Hope"--people whom he had met on the campaign trail whose stories had touched him deeply. The gang of 53 ended up being a cross-section of America, with a Bloods and a Crips gang member, each of whom had decided to give up gang fighting for living a more productive life. There was a Native American leader from Montana, a Catholic priest involved in inner city work and several people who faced rare and debilitating medical conditions. Each of these people, however, articulated a hope for the future that was inspiring for Clinton, as well as many of us who learned about this luncheon. But it might have made us think that the lion and the lamb would soon lie down together.
Thus, by the time he delivered his inaugural address on January 20, after Maya Angelou has recited her beautiful poem "On the Pulse of Morning" (reviving the Kennedy tradition of having a famous poet--in his case Robert Frost--read/recite at the inauguration), Clinton had created sky-high hopes for rather immediate change for the better in America. A new generation was on the scene. He believed in a little town called Hope. He didn't stop thinking about tomorrow. And, we were told that neither should we.
The actual realities of governing were a bit more complex, as the next essay tries to show.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long