Exclusive: Gov’t shutdown will help Obama politically, former Clinton aide says

By Sahil Kapur
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 8:41 EDT
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WASHINGTON – A former aide in the Clinton White House tells Raw Story the politics of a government shutdown will be good for President Barack Obama, and warns that the nature of today’s Republican caucus will make negotiations more difficult.

Progressive strategist Mike Lux served as Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison from 1993 to mid-1995. He witnessed first-hand the White House’s stand-off with the new Republican majority, which led to a partial government shutdown.

“It’s fascinating, because Republicans don’t control their own caucus unlike 1995,” Lux said in an interview Tuesday. “When you were negotiating with [then-Speaker] Newt [Gingrich] you were negotiating with the caucus. But [Speaker John] Boehner has no control whatsoever over the 87 freshmen or over other people who are worried about tea party primaries.”

“It makes it much harder to negotiate the deals, which I think raises the likelihood of shutdowns.”

The House on Tuesday afternoon approved 335-91 a stop-gap measure that would keep the government solvent through March 18. And though the Senate is likely to pass it soon, it’s possible the two sides won’t reach a budget deal in that time, bringing many government functions to a halt.

After the clash in 1995 and the ensuing government shutdown, public opinion swung notably in Clinton’s favor as most Americans blamed Gingrich for the fiasco.

“It just dramatically turned the whole frame of the conversation,” Lux said. “When government was shut down, people got reminded about the good things government did for them. The fact that they couldn’t go to the national parks or the museums, and the conversations about whether they would still get their Social Security checks.”

This time Republicans, haunted by those memories, are treading much more carefully. GOP lawmakers, like Obama and Democrats, have repeatedly emphasized they do not want a government shutdown, which would occur if the two sides cannot reach a deal by Friday.

A poll Tuesday found the public sharply divided on who would be to blame in that event.

The former Clinton aide, currently the CEO of the consulting firm Progressive Strategies, said he’s confident that Obama would benefit politically if a shutdown were to occur.

Politically, “their best course of action is to stand their ground,” he said, noting that a shutdown would “remind people of what they like about government” as he says it did in 1995. “Obama needs to show some strength here. Americans want a president who’s strong.”

At the time, were Clinton staffers positive it would work out well for them politically?

“No,” Lux said flatly, with a laugh. “Not at all. There was no certainty whatsoever how it would turn out.”

“In fact, there were some Clinton aides including Mark Penn and Dick Morris who were arguing that we should just cut a deal with the Republicans, split the difference, and everybody go home. They didn’t want a fight, they didn’t want a showdown. They thought we wouldn’t lose it.”

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