W. has company
by Dan Kennedy
George W. Bush enters office under an ominous cloud: nationally, he lost the
popular vote by more than 300,000 ballots, and he won Florida -- and thus the
presidency -- only through a combination of legal maneuvers and the
disenfranchisement of hundreds, if not thousands, of black voters. But he's
hardly the first modern president to get off to a rocky start.
* Richard Nixon. By the time of the Trickster's smashing 1972 election
triumph, the Watergate mess was already beginning to spread. In less than two
years, the scandal had grown from what Nixon had called a "third-rate burglary"
into the only presidential resignation in history.
* Gerald Ford. Dick Cheney's first White House boss got off to a
heartening start by proclaiming, "Our long national nightmare is over." But
soon thereafter he pardoned Nixon, enraging millions of Americans who wanted
the former president called to account. Ford's long personal nightmare ended in
* Jimmy Carter. The exception, and proof that a good start isn't
everything. The peanut farmer from Georgia won the public over by walking at
his inauguration and hosting freewheeling town meetings. Yet Carter was an
intelligent but ineffective leader who was laid low by economic and
foreign-policy disasters, culminating in the Iranian hostage crisis of
* Ronald Reagan. It's hard to remember now, but by the time of his
election in 1980 the Gipper had been a divisive figure in American politics for
nearly 20 years. Although it sounds morbid, the assassination attempt that took
place early in his term turned out to be a good career move, buying him time
and sympathy during the worst recession since the 1930s.
* George H.W. Bush. "Not in the loop" was Bush's mantra as he attempted
to deal with the fallout of the Iran-contra affair, which had broken wide open
during Reagan's second term. Though it was easy to accept that the obviously
addled Reagan didn't know the full story, it was harder to believe that about
Bush, a former CIA director and an unusually involved vice-president.
* Bill Clinton. Let's see. By the time Clinton took office, the public
already knew that he'd "caused pain" in his marriage, had dodged the draft, and
hadn't inhaled. The New York Times had already broken a few Whitewater
stories, with many, many more to come. In fact, Clinton's first two years were
about as bad as any president's could be, from his gays-in-the-military
double-clutch to the health-care fiasco. But as we all know, since then it's
been nothing but fast roads and clear skies, illicit blow jobs and impeachment
notwithstanding. Who would have guessed?