HARVARD PROFESSORS, ADMINISTRATORS AND FELLOWS SAY IT'S HARD TO JUDGE A PRESIDENT'S TRUE EFFECTIVENESS ON AN ADMINISTRATION'S FIRST FEW MONTHS. YET MOST OF THEM HAVE SOME SUGGESTIONS OR RECOMMENDATIONS, HAVING WITNESSED AND EVALUATED...
Surrounded by books on the American presidency in his Littauer office, Associate Professor of Government Mark A. Peterson belittles the popular trend of evaluating presidents based on their first hundred days in the White House.
"Let me preface my remarks by saying I think these 100 days conversations are inane," Peterson says.
In fact, the general consensus among Harvard faculty, administrators and fellows seems to indicate that 100 days (actually 117) is too little time to predict the future success of a president--or of President Clinton.
"It is really too early to come to any definite conclusions," says Roger Porter, the former Bush administration domestic policy adviser who has returned to teach at the Business School and the Kennedy School of Government.
"The only time [these conversations] made sense was during Roosevelt's term," Peterson says.
Peterson, Porter and others trace the first 100-day presidential analysis back to the term of Franklin D. Roosevelt '04. In his first few months, Roosevelt enacted an enormous amount of legislation, including a much needed economic program that provided depression relief, loans and jobs through a variety of federal agencies.
"This 100-day business has been a tradition since Roosevelt, but it does not cast an administration or a president in concrete," Porter says.
But while many argue that the 100-day mark serves little purpose, few can hold back in passing judgment on the chief executive's early performance, especially since he made ambitious campaign pledges of sweeping changes. Launching into detailed critiques, they both make suggestions for improvement and give tenuous nods of approval.
Professor of Government Morris P. Fiorina is one of the many who use the first 100 days of other presidents as a barometer for Clinton.
"All his staff and he were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the Carter administration, which has pretty much been accepted to be a failure," Fiorina says.
"But I've been surprised how they've made the same mistakes and how they've admitted it as well," says Fiorina, who teaches an introductory American government course and a class titled "Elections and Public Opinion in the 1980s."
But Peterson, who teaches a course on the President and Congress and one titled "The American Presidency," says Clinton has already bettered the last Democrat who sat in the Oval Office.
"There are three broad skills of a President," Peterson says. "The first is the basic intellectual skills and a knowledge of policy making. Clinton has this and so did Carter."
"The second is an ability to engage in inside bargaining, negotiating and arm-twisting. [Lyndon Johnson] could do this, and Clinton is a lot closer in this way to Johnson than he is to Carter. The last skill is communication. Clinton can do this very well with large and small audiences, as Franklin Roosevelt could, and Reagan and Kennedy," he says.