This originally appeared in Newsday on April 30, 1969
The first 100 days of Richard Nixon end today, and lo and behold! All those troubles that were supposed to go away are still with us: war in Vietnam, trouble in the cities, turmoil on the campuses and the bitter bite of inflation.
And so the pundits are clucking, “We told you so.” The partisan opponents are weighing in, too, with that feigned indignation that accompanies the renewal of Washington’s political wars. We are told by the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives that “the time for action is past due,” as if the new President is expected to clean up in just over three months the problems the Democrats could not resolve in eight years (some of which were of their own making!).
We think it all a bit silly, this Instant Deliverer syndrome. Rome, as every schoolboy knows, wasn’t built in a day – not even in 100 days. Yet ever since the epochal beginning of Franklin Roosevelt’s first administration in the depth of depression, each President has been expected to work magic between his inauguration and the first blush of the cherry blossoms in the spring. When miracles do not happen, the politicians and press rush in wringing their hands and deploring the unmessianic mortality that the new man in the White House is suddenly discovered to possess.
Some Presidents respond with hasty and ill-conceived panaceas to these efforts of people to hustle their priorities, as if the wrong cure is better than no cure at all. Legislation is often drafted, sent to the Congress, and passed in the desperate hope that sheer volume and motion are of themselves sufficient for the day.
Presidents are not entirely free of responsibility for this whole surrealistic nonsense. In campaigning for the office, more often than not they promise more than they can ever deliver. Nixon did say that he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam; it is only natural for people now to expect him to produce it. He did imply that no “fourth-rate power” would dare kick Uncle Sam in the shins again. He did give the impression that he would put an end to rapes, muggings and assaults in the streets, that he would find a way to restore calm to the nation’s campuses and that he would come up with new help for the cities. He did, in other words, create the expectations that are now coming home to haunt him. It is hard to weep for a man who smothers in his own gas.
This originally appeared in Newsday in 1973.
Barring an inconceivable shift of fortune, history will no doubt remember 1973 as the year President Nixon brought America’s direct military involvement in Vietnam to an end. The year, that is, when the most powerful nation on earth, freed from two decades of preoccupation with a single issue, could set out in new directions. And what are the new directions?
One hundred days into the year, the ship of state hardly seems to be steering a steady course. These ought to be the most constructive, headiest days of any presidential term, and if anything the war’s conclusion and return of our POWs should have added to the zest and sense of accomplishment. Instead the log by and large is depressing, even ominous.
Economic policy? Phase III has failed. The president beat a partial retreat on food prices, but too late to save the credibility of his strategy. Even restoring controls across the board now could not wipe out the disastrous whipsaw of prices already experienced in these 100 days.
Domestic reform? The President’s praiseworthy determination to prune the bureaucracy and reexamine old social programs degenerated into planless dismantling. State and local governments drift in conclusion while awaiting the next bulletin from Washington.
Foreign affairs? The diplomatic triumph of the Paris agreements is threatened by President Thieu’s intransigence on political commitments we made in return for an end to Communist expansionism in South Vietnam. And the Cambodian bombing goes on, a heartless strategy which is neither constitutional nor effective.
Law and order? Incredibly, an administration which trumpets a crackdown against lawlessness has become the pursued, not the pursuer. The President’s political party and indeed his government are snarled in the backlash of Watergate when both should be thinking out new policies for the nation.
Relations with Congress? The President’s unyielding stand on impoundment threatens a constitutional crisis which even the Supreme Court may find impossible to unravel, Nixon seems to be maneuvering himself into the position of denying that Congress has a real voice in fiscal decision-making.
There is precious little joy in tracking the chart of these first 100 days. And it would be unwise for even the most partisan opponent of the President in particular or Republicans in general to rejoice over the apparent mess in Washington. Rather, Republicans and Democrats, congressmen and White House advisers and the rest of us should join the President in trying to find a better course. It might even be a good idea to proclaim a second “100 days” devoted to reconsideration of failed policies and reconciliation with all those damaged or offended by these failures.