It's not 1994 again
U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference, the day after Republicans gained 60 seats in the House of Representatives in midterm elections, in the East Room of the White House November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Democrats are apt to prettify recollections of the aftermath of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. But Obama isn't showing signs of being Clinton, and Boehner's no self-destructing Gingrich.
By Doyle McManus
November 4, 2010
It's common these days — and, to some Democrats, comforting — to summon hazy memories of 1994, when, as happened again on Tuesday, their party lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans. That wasn't so bad, was it? After all, it led to a period of productive bipartisan deal-making — and then, two years later, Bill Clinton won reelection by a comfortable margin.
But that is a prettied-up version of history. Before President Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich were able to compromise on taxes, spending cuts and welfare reform, they collided spectacularly — in a bitter budget confrontation that led to two federal government shutdowns in 1995. Just as Gingrich and his Republicans had to test the limits of their newly won power, so too will the new majority of Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner look for at least one tough confrontation with Obama, both to test the president's resilience and to keep promises to their "tea party" constituents. One almost certain clash: a vote to repeal Obama's healthcare law, even though Obama is virtually certain to veto it.
And Obama's challenge over the next two years looks more difficult than Clinton's, in several ways.
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Partly, this is because Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. When the Democrats lost in 1994, Clinton's reaction the next day was: "They sent us a clear message. I got it."
You didn't hear words like that from Obama on Wednesday. He blamed his party's reverses on the slow pace of economic recovery, on the "ugly mess" of deal-making in Congress and on the White House bubble that makes him look isolated. The only specific failing the president acknowledged on his part was his failure to keep the business community on his side. Where Clinton accepted — grudgingly — that his party had overreached and needed to move toward the center, Obama insisted that everything his administration had done was right, even if some of it was misunderstood.
That's a defensible argument, but it sounds out of touch the day after so many voters abandoned his party. And it reflects an important difference between Obama and Clinton: Clinton is a centrist from Arkansas who spent much of his career striking deals with conservatives. Obama is a liberal from Chicago who has succeeded, so far, mostly by appealing to his party's base.