Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Big Difference Between 1995 and Now

One more point about Speaker Boehner and the Republicans as we approach a possible shutdown: this is very different than 1995-1996. Newt Gingrich, unlike Boehner now, really did believe that Bill Clinton was going to fold; his entire strategy for the year was to play chicken with Clinton, who he mistakenly saw as a weakling.

Newt, too, really was coming off of a stunning electoral victory. Bill Clinton's approval ratings were fairly similar to where Barack Obama is now, but where we sit in the electoral cycle is totally different, since the most recent election was an Obama-reelection in which Democrats gained seats in both Houses of Congress. In other words, it wasn't nuts for Republicans to believe that the will of the voters was on their side. It was wrong -- but not totally nuts.

Moreover, in 1995 Republicans had an understandable sense that anything was possible -- they had done something everyone had told them was impossible. Not just that -- but Newt had led them to an electoral victory everyone told them was impossible. In real life, sure, not everyone thought it was impossible, and Newt had very little to do with it, but that they thought otherwise wasn't nuts....well, I suppose it's not exactly rational to believe that your leader has magic powers, not to mention that falling for Newt's snake oil has never been very smart, but it was in a lot of ways a normal (incorrect) reaction to events. In that sense, comparing it to 2010 doesn't get at it at all; sure, there were some overenthusiastic Democrats who claimed that 2008 was the dawn of a solid Democratic era, but 2010 was far less of a shock than 1994 had been.

Put it all together, and it makes this fall very different from 1995. It still doesn't mean that we won't get a shutdown...plenty of factors make it hard to make a deal, even if leaders on both sides want one. But in 1995 Republicans sprinted off the cliff, following and in many cases believing a leader who promised them they could float on air. That's not where they are this time.


  1. 1995 is also different in another way, and I'm not sure the extent to which this makes a difference.

    In 1995, you had Republicans who thought that opposing the sitting president was good politics for both the general and the primary. They weren't all that worried about primaries to begin with, but opposing Clinton was fine for primaries, and, in many of their perceptions, at worst a push in the general (seen from their perspective as 1994 being a sign that the plurality-elected Clinton was a one-term lame duck interruption of the new post-1980 partisan balance).

    In 2013? It's not just good primary politics; opposing Obama is a litmus test in many districts. In the general? Much less clear than 1995: can't hurt in a number of safe districts, and if the MC has drunk the KoolAid, they think that they can win with differential turnout. On the other hand, the existence of independents and Dems isn't a secret, and if the MC is getting any information from outside the closed info loop, they're aware that people disagree on things.

    So, in 1995, it seems like a pretty safe bet that it's, at worst, good policy strategy and a fair political strategy. In 2013, it seems like it's not particularly good policy strategy, and a double-edged political strategy (helps primary, hurts general).

    To me, it seems that the extent to which we approach a shutdown demonstrates either a) the increased weight primaries take on or b) the rise in the elected nutjob, for whom positing rational calculations is silly. I really don't think Bachmann, Goehmert, King, etc. are doing these sorts of calculations. I think they cannot fathom the idea that reasonable people would disagree with them.

  2. It is interesting to compare 1995 to now, with consideration of the presidential election (a plurality for Clinton, a majority twice for Obama). I have to admit, though, that in early 1993 I was shocked by how many people put anti-Clinton bumper stickers on their cars in response to the election. There was a powerful, visceral hatred of the man and his wife on the part of a very vocal minority. To me, the hatred seemed to come from nowhere. The election in 1994 appeared to confirm it, and 1995 was sort of a victory dance that went very, very wrong.

    One definition of insanity is repeating the same stupid act while expecting a different outcome. Many people, here and elsewhere, regard the far right as crazy, and it's true that they are begging for something that has a known, very bad outcome.

    I think they will shut the government down. They consider it a matter of faith.


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