Clinton’s first 100 days

By Mike Feinsiliber

I want one of those great 100 days in which Congress would adopt my health care and education policies, my energy and economic initiatives, and where the private sector would become engaged in a whole new partnership to make this country great again.’‘—Candidate Bill Clinton in interview with Fortune magazine, May 1992.

WASHINGTON (AP)—President Clinton reaches his 100th day in office Thursday amid a lively debate over what he has to show for it, where he’s headed—and what kind of president he is.

He leads an all-over-the-lot, let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom administration, full of beans and running on adrenaline.

He says he’s ‘‘doing fine,’‘ but also, ruefully, ‘‘You can’t expect instant results.’‘

He says that he’s been ‘‘banged around’‘ and may have ‘‘overextended myself,’‘ that he’s got to start over again, ‘‘focus on big things.’‘

Republicans are harsher, but divided. Some say the ‘‘different kind of Democrat’‘ has turned out to be just another tax-and-spend liberal, an ideological kin to Lyndon Johnson. Others says he is more like Jimmy Carter, whom they belittle as an ineffective outsider.

Clinton ‘‘has been captured by the liberals of his party,’‘ says Republican Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who may seek Clinton’s job in 1996.

‘‘He is on a roll of breaking promises,’‘ says Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois. Sen. John C. Danforth of Missouri sees Clinton as ‘‘arrogant’‘ in dealing with Congress and ‘‘ambivalent’‘ in dealing with the bloodshed in Bosnia.

Even Clinton’s budget director, Leon Panetta, in an unusual burst of candor, said this week that Clinton won’t get far on Capitol Hill until he decides what his priorities are and then goes after them.

For all that, the record is not empty. Clinton has been a different kind of president, and the country is just getting used to him.

He broke ground by giving his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, real work: the intricate job of reinventing the medical care system, a matter of interest to every American, sick or well.

He gave his vice president real work, too, putting Al Gore in charge of eliminating government waste and making government innovative.

And Clinton gave work to people not usually found in high office. He gave the country its first Cabinet in which white males constitute a minority.

He has been extraordinarily cautious in foreign affairs. On Bosnia and Haiti, he retained policies that he decried as a candidate as unfair and unfeeling.

Still, he parachuted food to starving Bosnians and is now deciding whether to bomb their ancient enemies, the Serbs.

He was elected to ‘‘grow’‘ the economy and ‘‘reinvent’‘ the government, but he got sidetracked, something he said would not happen.

He ignored Republicans, uniting them in their opposition to him, and flubbed a modest economic stimulus bill.

Clinton finds himself in need of courting the support of the armed forces, something that came automatically to previous presidents. He antagonized the military by proposing to drop the ban on homosexuals in uniform and, to his chagrin, allowed that issue to dominate his opening days.

Even if his reach exceeded his grasp, Clinton did win congressional approval of a budget plan to reverse the path toward ever-bigger deficits. He embraced two international environmental initiatives spurned by George Bush.

He reversed the government’s abortion policy—doing with the stroke of a pen what Democratic majorities in Congress were unable to do in 12 years.

He had the bad fortune of having the lethal assault on a cult’s fortress in Waco, Texas, on his watch—and the good fortune to be given a Supreme Court retirement and a chance to put a lasting mark on that institution.

He banned smoking in the White House. He sat through hours of impassioned argument over the habitat of an endangered owl, then the next day offered money and moral support to an endangered leader, Boris Yeltsin.

Clinton has brought a new style to Washington—along with a battalion of Rhodes scholars and aides so young that they’ve taken to calling the Old Executive Office Building ‘‘the Young Executive Office Building.’‘

No lazy Camp David weekends or weekday horseback rides for this president; he works early and late and Saturdays and Sundays, and so does his staff.

It’s a playful White House, too. One day Clinton showed up in the Oval Office with an ugly red scratch on his head. ‘‘I got this playing with my daughter, I’m ashamed to say,’‘ he explained. He said he was ‘‘rolling around, acting like a child.’‘

Stephen Ambrose, biographer of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, considers Clinton’s beginning ‘‘inept.’‘ He thinks it is unprecedented and ‘‘maybe dangerous’‘ that a president has gotten off on such bad footing with the military.

‘‘We can expect a stormy, crisis ridden presidency for the next 3^4 years,’‘ says Roosevelt scholar William Leuchtenberg. But he says history may single out Clinton for giving women, blacks and Hispanics substantial jobs.

Historian Alan Brinkley says Clinton has the gregariousness and political instincts of a Lyndon Johnson, the vision of a Franklin Roosevelt. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. considers Clinton ‘‘articulate, ebullient, untiring and, thus far, rather endearing.’‘

These observers are quick to note this president’s handicaps. Congress is more independent these days and the press more aggressive. Moreover, Roosevelt and Johnson were not encumbered by inherited $300 billion deficits.

Brinkley makes one more point: He says recent administrations—those of Ronald Reagan and Bush—were not ambitious to see government do more. Clinton is. So people expect more.