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Caveat lector

21 October 1998

The Howler blows its very own horn: Right from the start

Synopsis: We pooh-poohed the talk of a government shutdown. It’s now clear: we were right from the start.

The GOP: Outwitted Again
David Broder, The Washington Post, 10/21/98

At THE HOWLER, we rarely blow our own horn--we let the analysis speak for itself--but this morning we revisit the guidance we gave you this fall about that looming federal government shutdown. We hate to say it, but we’re compelled by the facts: THE DAILY HOWLER was right from the start.

By last August, the GOP was shedding big crocodile tears about the thought that Bill Clinton would just shut ’er on down--would force a government shutdown “to change the subject,” and somehow get Republicans blamed in the process. The conception was silly on its face. At the time, Clinton was being blamed, within the press, for everything except stealing the Lindbergh baby, and there were most likely a couple of scribes around town who were trying to tie him to that.

In that climate, the notion that Clinton could fail to sign a reasonable CR, and then get Republicans blamed for the ensuing shutdown--well, we said it was about as likely as believing that Senator Phil Gramm would decide he should finance more X-rated movies. And yes--fearless in service to what we knew to be true, we knocked a pair of media Big Dogs for spreading the silly story.

On August 26, we criticized David Broder for mouthing this tale--and for presenting an odd history of the 1995 shutdowns to help goose up the story. (See “Our current howler,” 8/26/98)

A few days later, we swallowed hard here at THE DAILY HOWLER, and published the info we’d hoped that the analysts wouldn’t bring us--we showed how Broder had told the story of the ’95 shutdowns very differently back in January 1996, when Clinton was politically ascendant. (See “Life in this celebrity press corps,” 9/1/98.) And on September 8, we criticized Tim Russert for bruiting around the GOP’s silly shutdown story--for uncritically warning his Meet the Press audience that Naughty Bill just might Shut Her On Down. (“Our current howler,” 9/8/98)

Well, now the budget deal has been passed by the House--after the president signed a succession of routine CRs--and we all can sit back and see just how right THE DAILY HOWLER was from the start. Given the public disgust with the ’95 shutdowns, it never made sense to think that either party would want another shutdown. The notion that Clinton could fail to sign a CR, and then somehow slip blame, was especially silly, just as we said.

But, before we invite you to look back at our work, and ponder how right our vaunted analysts can be, we think we have to mention one fact: one Big Dog is still telling strange tales about what happened in ’95-96.

Here’s David Broder--normally one of our favorites--in this morning’s Post:

BRODER: In 1995 Clinton vetoed stopgap funding bills and forced the Republicans to take the blame for the Christmas shutdown of large parts of the federal government. In doing so, he demonized Speaker Newt Gingrich and helped set the stage for his own reelection.

Dagnabbit! The thing that Broder still won’t mention is the fact that those stopgap bills that Clinton vetoed were loaded up with the very budget provisions that were still under dispute. The Republicans were “forced to take the blame” for the shutdowns because, as a basic part of their bargaining strategy, they refused to present “clean” CRs. Everyone knew it at the time--Broder’s own reporting in January ’96 plainly reflects it--and, as we pointed out in our reports this fall, many conservatives are completely open about acknowledging the situation now. We’re normally big fans of David Broder; but he simply won’t report what everyone used to know--that the GOP “took the blame” for the 1995 shutdowns because they were the ones who crafted a deliberate strategy of shutting the government down.

But why let little squabbles intrude? The American people have the best of both worlds. They have a budget that now has gone through the Congress with no shutdowns or dislocations whatever. And they can finally sit back, and agree with us, that THE HOWLER was right from the start.

Read on: Review our unassailable work on this subject:

Our current howler, 8/26/98: The pundit dean flunks his history exam Life in this celebrity press corps, 9/1/98: Reinventing the government shutdowns Our current howler, 9/8/98: A shutdown on common sense