A mere 50 days into his administration, Pres. Obama is rejecting the suggestion that he is trying to do “too much, too soon” — a criticism from Obama supporters like Jim Cramer and Warren Buffett that is resonating at outlets like the L.A. Times, ABC News and an article by William Galston at The New Republic.
Pres. Obama retorted that FDR “didn’t have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war,” while White House flack Robert Gibbs gave the extended dance remix of FDR’s “burning house” argument for Lend-Lease at Monday’s press gaggle. Putting aside the evidence that FDR’s policies prolonged the Depression, which was only reversed by WWII, Galston’s TNR piece recounts how Roosevelt in fact delayed most of the programs that did not bear directly on the economic emergency.
As a warning, Galston notes a different historical example:
After a week in office, another newly minted president mused in his private diary, “Everybody has warned me not to take on too many projects so early in the administration, but it’s almost impossible for me to delay something that I see needs to be done.” That president was Jimmy Carter, who–true to his word–sent a flood of proposals down Pennsylvania Avenue, so many that Congress soon bogged down in near-gridlock. By the end of his first year, American were beginning to wonder whether Carter could get things done and–worse–whether he was up to the job.
Galston could have added Bill Clinton as another example of the “too much, too soon” syndrome, as BusinessWeek observed in May 1993. For that matter, the Clintons had a track record of blaming their failures on trying to do too much, too soon. Obama can take comfort in the fact that Clinton was reelected, though his ambition was a big factor in the Democratic midterm Congressional losses of 1994.
That President Obama seems to be following the “too much, too soon” path of Carter and Clinton should not be a big surprise. Obama’s election continues a 16-year cycle favoring relatively inexperienced Democrats preaching the gospel of Hopenchange. Victory apparently breeds hubris in such presidents that causes them to ignore the lessons of history — or get just plain get them wrong.
Update x2: The president before Carter on the 16-year cycle was JFK, who also had trouble getting his ambitious agenda through Congress.