A Skilled White House, Aggressively on Message (Not!)

September 20, 2013 - 3:43 AM

President Barack Obama, fresh from having his lunch money taken from him by Russia's Vladimir Putin, is flailing about trying to find someone he can shift the public's attention to.

He has chosen House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh) as the person; and the upcoming end of the U.S. government's fiscal year on September 30 as his verbal weapon.

I think that is the wrong fight against the wrong guy.

The last time we were headed down the road to actually shutting down the federal government was in late 1995 and early 1996. Two main players - and this is important - were President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich was the brilliant, but divisive architect of the GOP takeover of the U.S. House in the elections of 1994. According to the Gallup organization, "By January of 1996, 57% of Americans said that their image of Gingrich was unfavorable, compared with 37% who had a favorable image of him."

Only six percent had no opinion.

Clinton's numbers were not much better: In January 1996 his job approval was barely above water at 47-44 - but still a full 13 percentage points better than Gingrich's.

In the end, Congress did force the government to shut down -- twice -- and it was not popular with the folks, even though the actual impact was negligible -- largely due to the length, 21 days, and the time of year, December 16 through January 6, when much of the country effectively shuts down for the holidays anyway.

Obama's attempting to duplicate Clinton's victory over Gingrich will fail on a number of fronts. First of all Obama v. Boehner doesn't have the same ring as Clinton v. Gingrich.

Gingrich was the perfect foil for Clinton. In large part, due to the thousands of ads Democrats ran against Gingrich, he was like the Golden Arches. All Clinton had to say was "Gingrich" and most people believed they knew everything they needed to know about him.

Boehner, for better or for worse, is no Gingrich. Nor are the other leaders in the House and Senate. According to Rasmussen polling the House and Senate leadership's fave-unfave numbers are as follows:

House:

Boehner 30 - 53
Pelosi 33-56

Senate:

McConnell 26-46
Reid 28-49

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Clinton had a very strong team that was like Woody Hayes' Ohio State Buckeyes: Three yards and a cloud of dust. Their mantra was (as I remember it): "Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment."

You could ask Paul Begala if he'd eaten lunch yet, and he'd say "Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment."

Gingrich was accused wanting to cut Medicare and Medicaid. What he wanted to do was to cut the rate of growth which, 17-or-so years on, was the right thing to do.

The May Pole around which all are dancing is in this era is, of course, ObamaCare.

When people say Boehner has no control over the Republicans in the House, I ask them if Nancy Pelosi was better.

"Of course," they say. "She got ObamaCare through."

The vote on the Affordable Care Act was 219-212. No Republicans voted for it; 34 Democrats voted against it.

She twisted arms, browbeat her colleagues, promised them who-knows-what, and snuck the bill through in March of 2010.

If you define "controlling her caucus" as marching them off a political cliff by losing 63 seats in the election later that year, then Boehner should be bragging about not being able to control the House Republicans.

Nancy Pelosi handed the House back to the GOP which will probably keep it at least through the 2020 elections.

Harry Reid wants no part of a bill avoiding a government shut down that includes de-funding ObamaCare. He doesn't want his vulnerable Democratic Senators to have to vote on it.

As the AP's Dave Espo wrote: For their part, the White House and majority Democrats in the Senate will be trying to protect the health care law that stands as Obama's signature domestic accomplishment -- without complicating the re-election chances of senators on the 2014 ballot in swing states.

ObamaCare obviously wasn't popular in 2010, and stories of universities and hospitals as well as retailers and manufacturers cutting hours and laying people off to keep their health care costs from skyrocketing has not made it any more popular today.

Obama can't hope to duplicate the chessboard as it was in 1995-96. I said after the shutdown in 1996 that a skilled White House, aggressively on message, is an unstoppable political force in America.

Obama's White House is not skilled (as he proved to the world over the past three weeks), and it has no message to stick to at all.

And finally he doesn't have Newt Gingrich, who was Bill Clinton's strongest weapon.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to Gingrich's polling numbers via Gallup and the Wikipedia Summary of the Congressional maneuvering on Obamacare. Also a very nice photo from lunch yesterday.