Okay, the often-reliable Eric Pianin of the Washington Post has a book review in the front section today on the new book by former House Budget Chairman John Kasich that offers a skewed version of history. First, while Kasich deserves a lot of the credit in the successful fight to balance the budget, he never deserved quite SO MUCH of the amount of credit he was given then and that Pianin gives him today. Pianini writes: “Kasich was responsible for translating into reality the GOP’s plans for balancing the budget, reforming welfare and slashing taxes.” Not exactly. Kasich helped, but the budget committee is merely responsible for a broad fiscal outline. The nitty gritty is done by the Approps Committee and by the Ways and Means Committee; with a large GOP majority, the Budget Committee’s work was the easy part. Go back and look at how many subcommittee hearings and how many pages of legislation Approps and W&M produced in 1995, versus the much lighter number from the Budget Committee, and you’ll see what I mean. The credit, therefore, belongs more to Approps Chair Bob Livingston (my former boss, who REALLY did major heavy lifting to cut $50 billion in actual dollars in domestic discretionary spending in two years) and W& M Chair Bill Archer — along with, on welfare, W& M key member Clay Shaw of Florida, who far too long has been an unsung hero and gotten far too little credit.
I would disagree with Pianin that Clinton joined the GOP in “want(ing) to balance the budet, but the question was how to get there.” That’s just bullfeathers.Clinton never once, all through 1995, submitted a balanced budget to Congress. All he did was continually veto or otherwise block GOP legislation to accomplish that task. In fact, the FY 1996 budget that Clinton gave Congress in early 1995 called for $200 billion deficits as far as the eye could see. That was his official, and ONLY, actual submission of numbers. After that, all he did was say no and no and no again, all while claiming to want a balanced budget, until he finally accepted a plan the GOP gave him while at the same time warning that it still was too draconian. In other words, he had his cake while eating it too.
Pianin also said that the government shutdown in 1995 not only was a “colossal blunder for Republicans” (generally accepted wisdom, but at least semi-debatable, although it would take too long to outline the debate here) that “hurt Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign” (which is, sort of, true, but as an explanation for Dole’s loss is way overblown) “and cost the GOP dearly in the 1998 midterm House races — forcing Gingrich’s deprture from Congress soon after.”
It is that last claim that is utterly tendentious nonsense. The 1995 shutdown had as much impact on the 1998 races as the 1940 pledge by FDR to “keep us out of war” had to do with the elections of 1942. By 1998, the gov’t shutdown was just about the farthest thing from voters’ minds. The loss of five House seats by the GOP, in fact, had more to do with the Republicans’ SURRENDER to big spending in the fall of 1998 than it did to the fight against big spending that it waged in 1995. It also had to do, of course, with the utterly hamhanded way Gingrich and company handled the early part of the impeachment process, turning what had been a big negative for Clinton into a net positive for the Dems because the GOP looked as if it had bloodlust and a high degree of prurience rather than a sober concern about the seriousness of allegations of presidential perjury and obstruction of justice.
Indeed, the elections of 1998 were all about those two things: 1) The middle and left were turned off by the overeagerness for impeachment—NOT, mind you, by the very thought of impeachment, nor of punishing Clinton for misdeeds, but by the overzealous attitude of Gingrich and Company, expressed in both word and deed, the deeds including a rejection of what actually was a fairly reasonable proposal from Gephardt to govern how the impeachment inquiry was to be conducted. 2) The right was demoralized by the capitulation on spending (which in turn was Gingrich’s trade-off to House GOP moderates in return for holding their feet to the fire on EVERY jot and tittle of his impeachment plans). Hence the result of a five seat loss, when almost every pundit in America was predicting at least a 15-seat GOP gain in the House that year, while Gingrich predicted a 25-seat gain. In fact, if the 1995 government shutdown were responsible for the loss, why did all the pundits not PREDICT the loss for weeks leading up to the election?
Here I run the risk of self-aggrandizement, but feel I need to establish the bona fides of the analysis above of the 1998 elections. You see, unless I misremember, and unless the Post’s own Al Kamen missed it, Eric Pianin never saw the GOP loss coming back in 1998. Nobody in print saw it (with the exception, very late in the game, of, if I remember correctly, Mark Shields, who predicted an exact net wash, no gains or losses for either party in the House), EXCEPT YOURS TRULY. Kamen actually wrote about it the Friday after the election, noting that I seemed to be the only person in print in the entire country to get it right — and not only right that the GOP would lose any seats at all, but the exact number lost, namely five.
How did I get it right: By using, well in advance (as early as late September of that year) the exact analysis above, regarding the energizing of the Demo base and the moderate independents combined with the demoralization of the GOP base by the spending capitulation. And, to the point here, with regard to the Pianin book review, to repeat: THOSE RESULTS HAD ALMOST NOTHING TO DO WITH THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN BATTLE THREE WHOLE YEARS EARLIER; WAY TOO MUCH HAD HAPPENED IN THE MEANTIME FOR VOTERS WITH SHORT MEMORIES TO CONCERN THEMSELVES WITH THE 1995 EVENTS.
Why is this important? Because the myths about the destructiveness of the 1995 shutdown continue to have profound effects today, because politicians, unlike most voters, have long memories — especially for useful myths. By swallowing the myth, hook, line and sinker, that the entire idea of fighting for smaller government in 1995 was disastrous for Republicans, today’s congressional Republicans (and the majority thereof since the spending binge began in 1998!) have given themselves cover to give up the fight against big government and become K Street lackeys and pork specialists. Deflate the myth of the supposed “Disaster of the Shutdown,” and the GOP may well regain a collective spine.
Pianin is a good reporter. But his take on the history of all this is not just mistaken, but (unintentionally, I believe) damaging to conservatives’ causes.
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