This time the advantage would be with the Republicans — one would think.
Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland made news recently when he raised the possibility of a 1995-style government shutdown if, as widely expected, Republicans win enough seats in the coming elections to reclaim a majority in the House of Representatives. It would be the hardest of hard-ball politics, with Republicans apparently willing to bet that a shutdown showdown won’t blow up in their faces like the spectacular failure of Newt Gingrich’s gambit versus Bill Clinton.
The White House blog (part of this post-partisan administration’s permanent election campaign) noted Westmoreland’s comments on September 10: “…Republicans in Congress are busy telling partisans and Republican party activists to get prepared for the same stalemate and gridlock they brought the last time they were in charge.”
Talking heads across the television and radio airwaves played along with the Administration’s theme, casting Westmoreland’s words as “a gift to the Democrats.” They shouldn’t be so confident.
To be sure, the wisdom of a shutdown is not a settled matter even among Republicans. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey says it’s too soon to be talking about a shutdown, suggesting that “there’s a tendency to draw too many parallels between the ‘94-‘95 experience and what we think might happen here.”
Armey’s thinking on a shutdown was laid out in a 2006 interview in which Armey discussed what went wrong for Republicans in 1995:
Newt’s position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They’re the advocates of the government… Here’s the other thing: You’re heard saying rather boldly in June that you’re going to shut the government in the fall. You’ve set the stage for the press to report that the Republicans are now doing in October what they said they’d do in June. Even if, in fact, they thought it was the right strategy to shut down the government, they should have kept their mouths shut about it.
In addition to fear of repeating the ‘95 outcome, Armey now argues that it is “premature” to discuss a shutdown because, in a somewhat tautological argument, 2011 will be different from 1995 and therefore a shutdown may not be a smart or necessary tactic.
But there is another possible interpretation of the differences between 2011 and 1995, one which increases the likelihood of a shutdown being a political winner rather than tripping over one’s own landmine: 1994 gave us 4.1% GDP growth, ending the year at 5.5% unemployment. This year looks set to give us below 3% GDP growth, a particularly anemic “rebound” from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and unemployment between 9.5% and 10%, levels only seen during one other period (mid-1982 to mid-1983) since before World War II.
Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. While President Obama’s approval rating is slightly higher than Bill Clinton’s after the same number of days in office, Barack Obama started his presidency nine points higher than Bill Clinton did; Obama has seen the sharpest drop in job approval of any president post-WWII president other than Jimmy Carter. Perhaps most importantly, Obama is simply not likable the way Clinton was, a fact not to be underestimated in retail politics.
Barack Obama has for over two months maintained a disapproval rating higher than his approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics average of Obama job approval polls. And for almost all of 2010, the GOP has had a lead on the “generic ballot,” that is when people are asked whether they are more likely to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the upcoming election. A recent RCP average of a 7.6% GOP lead was a remarkable number, given that until recent months there had never been a Republican generic ballot advantage greater than 5 points in almost 70 years of Gallup polling. Republicans win elections even when the generic ballot does not seem in their favor because Republican turnout tends to exceed Democrat turnout, all else being equal. This year looks to be an extreme of that phenomenon, with Gallup measuring an astounding 25% lead for Republicans on “voter enthusiasm.”
Perhaps a government shutdown is in the Republicans’ political interest, common wisdom and the rhetoric of the Obama bloggers notwithstanding. But leading Democrats think a government shutdown is a winner for them:
At a Democratic Governors Association meeting earlier this month, former Clinton advisor Paul Begala said of a possible government shutdown, “[S]hould it come, you know to quote the previous president, ‘Bring it on.’”
And in a moment of almost laughable hubris, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, offered this: “While American troops are in harms’ way, it is outrageous that Republican leaders would even consider shutting down the government.” It remains unclear which part of fighting a war requires Obamacare to be fully funded or the Department of Education to have each and every Nanny State bureaucrat rump firmly ensconced in an office chair. Still, Holland makes clear what the Democrats’ argument will be should a shutdown showdown loom: “The Republicans’ plan to shut down the government would mean that millions of seniors wouldn’t get their Social Security checks or Medicare coverage and America’s veterans wouldn’t get the benefits they earned.” The sky is falling… .
The problem for Democrats is that they’re turning into the boy who cried wolf, or more precisely cried Ronald Reagan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Americans remember (and will be routinely reminded by Republicans over the next five weeks) of the infamous prediction by the Obama team that unemployment would stay below 8% if only they were allowed to spend almost a trillion dollars of our children’s money on “stimulus.”
The Administration continues to talk about a few million jobs “created or saved,” the latter being not accidentally unmeasurable, while — back in the real world — Americans know that the job market is a disaster. Furthermore, statistics covering the jobs that we know have been created show that they were no bargain: for example, in July a Government Accountability Office report said that the Department of Energy used stimulus money to create 10,018 jobs at an average cost of $194,213 per job. Not only is it hard to imagine how jobs cleaning up contaminated mining and military sites are worth an average $194,213 per employee, but it also must be noted that such jobs are inherently temporary, making the cost of these jobs even more unjustifiable. From the report:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online