WASHINGTON — I doubt if any readers noticed, but I let President Bush's first 100 days come and go without making anything of it. The reason: I well remember the hard economic conditions back in 1932 that gave Franklin D. Roosevelt a landslide and the congressional backing that enabled him to do wonders right from the moment he took office.
So FDR was able to cite his remarkable accomplishments at the end of 100 days. But no president since has had that mighty mandate for change. Therefore, it really hasn't been fair to use that period as the basis for judging our presidents. And so, over the years, I never have.
But Democratic national chairman Terry McAuliffe wouldn't let me forget that Mr. Bush had reached that early day of judgment. He came in to a Monitor breakfast with books especially put together for us journalists that announced on their covers that they contained the story of Bush's first 100 days. Inside was a political critique that was almost an indictment:
In Mr. McAuliffe's view, Bush was off to a very bad start, taking positions that would severely harm the environment and pushing a massive tax cut that would provide virtually nothing to those in the lower income brackets while further enriching the wealthy.
Then, after McAuliffe had passed out the books, he found it impossible to say anything good about Bush as he responded to our questions.
McAuliffe is an affable fellow. And he seemed to feel that Bush-bashing was simply a requirement of his job.
Yet never before at our breakfasts have I seen such fierce partisanship from the opposition leadership in the early days of a new president. GOP chairman Frank Fahrenkopf gave new President Bill Clinton a "wait-and-see" appraisal. And some Democratic political leaders were even complimentary of President George Bush's 1988 start.
At one point I brought up the subject of George W.'s "style," asking McAuliffe about what he thought of Bush's "modesty." "Modesty?" McAuliffe replied incredulously. "What do you mean?" I said I was referring to Bush's staying out of the limelight as compared with Mr. Clinton's penchant for always being on stage. McAuliffe acted as though he didn't know what I was talking about, and we went on to other topics.
At another point in the breakfast, a reporter asked how McAuliffe's rough treatment of Bush and the Republicans was going over with people in his own party. McAuliffe said he was receiving hundreds of letters from Democrats who were saying how supportive and helpful he was and were rooting him on. He predicts big gains for the Democrats in elections this year and, particularly, in 2002.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think McAuliffe would better serve his party by waiting a bit before launching this all-out attack on Bush. I think the voters - even those who question Bush's right to be president - believe in fair play and hence in giving George W. a chance to see what he can do.
And, as I earlier indicated, I don't think 100 days is enough time to fairly judge any president's accomplishments. There is, indeed, a downturn in the economy - but nothing like the Great Depression that brought on the problems FDR dealt with immediately.
No, it's far too early to measure legislative or other presidential achievement. But I think one can note how a president comports himself during those first days in office, and probably form a good judgment about his presidential style.
Therefore, I believe my question about Bush's "modesty" was relevant.
Further, I'm convinced that the public finds this president a refreshing change from his predecessor. Bush promised that he would set a new tone, and he and his wife have won widespread public approval by setting this new tone.
I saw a John Zogby-Reuters poll recently that asked this question: "Are you glad George W. is president or would you have preferred a situation where Bill Clinton could have continued in office?" Fifty-eight percent said they were "glad" Bush was now president and just 30 percent said they wished Clinton was still in the White House.
My interpretation of that poll is that most Americans - including millions of voters who helped to give Al Gore that popular edge over Bush - have taken a liking to the personal style of this fellow from Texas.
So at 100 days plus a few more, I am willing to make a narrow judgment focused on Bush's style. To use Bush's way of putting things: "He's looking pretty darned good."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor