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1 September 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: Reinventing the government (shutdowns)

Synopsis: The pundit dean has changed his view on who caused those government shutdowns.

‘Blame ’em both’
David Broder, The Washington Post,1/14/96

We’ll admit it--this is the research we hoped the analysts wouldn’t bring us, back when we talked about David Broder’s recent column, the column in which he wierdly claimed that President Clinton had “forced” the ’95 shutdowns. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/26/98.) We had hoped that the analysts would leave well enough alone, and let our critique of Broder’s current thoughts stand, without checking the film to see what Broder had said when the shutdowns were actually happening.

But, when you train a group of analysts they way we’ve raised up thiscrew, you can’t hold them back when the going gets tough. And sure enough, one of the analysts rushed in last night with a full report from late ’95/early ‘96. It included Broder’s account of who was causing the shutdowns, back when the facts were still fresh in our minds.

As we’d suspected all along, the world then did seem different. On January 14, 1996, Broder discussed the ongoing shutdowns. He started by criticizing President Clinton for the budget proposals he’d made:

BRODER: The budget [Clinton] submitted ignored the move the government toward ending deficits. So the Congressional Republicans went ahead on their own. Periodically, and not at all helpfully, Clinton would pop up with new suggestions of his own, progressively closer to the Republican plan.
Fair enough. We’ve long believed the 104th Congress showed constructive leadership in the balanced budget debate. (We’re notoriously fair at THE HOWLER.) But then, Broder went on to discuss what happened next, and his view on the shutdowns was unmistakable:
BRODER: ...progressively closer to the Republican plan. Meantime, however, [Clinton] was vetoing appropriations bills, and the Republicans, instead of revising them sufficiently to meet his objections, as is normally the case, held them hostage--thus forcing two partial shutdowns of government.
It’s hard to say more clearly than that who forced the government shutdowns. Let’s parse it: “[T]he Republicans...held [the appropriation bills] hostage--thus forcing two partial shutdowns.” And indeed, it’s hard to find a history of this period that disagrees with the view Broder stated. (See Drew, Showdown; Maraniss/Weisskopf, “Tell Newt to Shut Up”; Woodward, The Choice.) At the time, it was widely understood that the GOP had adopted the shutdowns as their negotiating strategy, thinking that President Clinton was a weakened figure who would be unable to stand up to the pressure. No one was bashful about saying it out loud, including many top GOP figures. And by the way, it isn’t obvious that there was anything wrong with the plan, except it turned out that the public didn’t like it. The public disliked the shutdowns a good deal more than they liked the goals of the GOP budget; and the GOP had to abandon its ballyhooed government shutdowns, as public disfavor began mounting. And since that time, GOP spinners have labored hard to rewrite the history of the awkward affair--a project to which Broder almost seemed to sign on with his column in the Post last week.

Anyway, ever since President Clinton brought himself disgrace with the admission of his ridiculous conduct with Monica, a celebrity lynch mob has raced around town, just yellin’ and actin’ real crazy. We’ve seen pundits push to the front of the mob, assuring us that Everything Bad That We Know Of Is Bill Clinton’s Fault; and we’ve seen front-running pundits elbow others aside, to assure us that Everything About Bill Is Poll-Driven. Having said that, we’re sure there’s some perfectly valid explanation for David Broder’s odd reversal on the shutdowns last week. But our analysts here wanted his originalthoughts on the subject to come to your notice.

Here at THE HOWLER, our hands were tied. We had no choice but to let you see this. In fact, if you squint up your eyes and you view it just right, it almost seems to tell you something--that, despite what you read in this celebrity press corps, it isn’t just Inconstant Bill And His Ilk who now and then choose to roll with the tide.

Postscript: We thought you might like to see Tod Lindberg’s view of who caused those vexing shutdowns. Lindberg--the editorial page editor for the Washington Times--is a reliable, and honest, conservative. Here he is in the current Weekly Standard (9/7/98), in an article titled “Dare to Do Nothing?”

LINDBERG: We are not short of examples of how long a year can be in politics, much less two. Consider Newt Gingrich. A year ago, following a failed coup attempt against him within the House Republican leadership, the speculation was whether he would last in the speaker’s office until January or have to go by fall. Now his position in the House is as strong as it has been since the failure of the government-shutdown strategy in 1995-96. [Our emphasis]
As we’ve mentioned, Lindberg is a reliable, and honest, conservative. As such, he doesn’t have to smooch up to GOP cliques with silly reinventions about government shutdowns.