Oh, boy. Here comes another conservative columnist peddling revisionist history about the 1995/96 government shutdown in an attempt to convince Republicans to again shut down the government.
A few weeks ago, I noted that columnist Tony Blankley, who served as press secretary to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the shutdown, was wrong to claim that "the issue of deficit spending and public debt was of much less concern to the public than it is now."
Now here's Byron York:
Even if the 1995 shutdown hurt the GOP -- and there's no doubt the party suffered wounds inflicted not only by Clinton but also by themselves -- today's voters are in a different mood. "We have fiscal crises at the federal, state and local levels, and voters understand that," says Bill Paxon, a former Republican lawmaker and veteran of the shutdown. "Back in '95, we were whistling into the wind -- we were trying to preach fiscal discipline when voters were saying, 'Hey, there's not a problem.'"
And here's reality:
Then, as now, reporting suggested the public cared deeply about fiscal discipline. (And then, as now, there's every reason to think the public cares more about other things, like jobs and Social Security and Medicare.)
More from York:
Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner have learned from their mistakes. "Our goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government, not to shut it down," Boehner said recently -- a statement he has repeated many times. Contrast that to 1995, when, Paxon recalls, "We said we wanted to shut down the government, that it was a good thing, that it would get people's attention, that it would advance our cause."
Contrary to Paxon's suggestion that in 1995, Republicans were publicly saying they wanted to shut down the government, Republicans at the time tried to blame Bill Clinton for the shutdown. One such Republican was (wait for it …) Bill Paxon:
"Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, said: 'We are making a down payment on a balanced budget, and it is unfortunate that the president is willing to shut down government to prevent us from balancing the budget.'" [Buffalo News, November 15, 1995]
"Paxon said the vote put retirement funds at risk to 'aid and abet President Clinton's shutdown of the federal government.'" [Bismarck Tribune, November 19, 1995]
In December, Town Hall columnist Tony Blankley made a variety of false claims about the mid-1990s, including the false claim that Bill Clinton twice vetoed welfare reform prior to the 1994 mid-term elections. That didn't happen, as Blankley should know: Blankley was Newt Gingrich's press secretary at the time.
Today, Blankley has another column about his experience in the mid-1990s, and he again doesn't know what he's talking about.
First, Blankley again gets Clinton's position on welfare reform wrong:
The GOP in 1995 had three major policy objectives: 1) to balance the budget in seven years, 2) to reform welfare and 3) to pass our Contract with America 10-point plan. President Clinton opposed all three. With Clinton eventually going along, we in fact balanced the budget ahead of schedule, Clinton signed our welfare reform after first vetoing it twice, and about two-thirds of the contract was enacted into law and signed by President Clinton.
Clinton didn't oppose welfare reform. He supported it, going back to his campaign for president -- long before most Americans had ever heard of Newt Gingrich. And he didn't sign the GOP's welfare reform after first vetoing it twice -- he signed a compromise welfare reform bill after forcing the GOP to make what he viewed as sufficient changes by vetoing their first two bills. Finally, Blankley's suggestion that Clinton didn't support budget-balancing is more than a little disingenuous in light of the fact that in 1993, Clinton signed the largest deficit reduction plan in history, which passed Congress without a single Republican vote.
Next, there's Blankley's description of the 1995 government shutdown:
What the GOP House (and Senate) did in 1995 was pass very short-term funding bills (for just a few days) while we continued to debate the president regarding the larger issue of moving toward a balanced budget. When President Clinton refused to sign the bills, the government -- except for essential services -- "shut down."
In Blankley's telling, the GOP passed continuing resolutions in good faith to keep the government running during negotiations, but Clinton refused to sign them. That isn't really what happened. In fact, the GOP attached other provisions to the funding bills (and debt-ceiling increase), like an increase in Medicare premiums and restrictions on death-row appeals.
Finally, Blankley says the GOP lost the political battle over the government shutdown in part because "the issue of deficit spending and public debt was of much less concern to the public than it is now" and that Republicans should therefore be undeterred by the lessons of 1995-96 in pursuing deficit reduction at all costs.
Nonsense. In the early to mid 1990s, deficits got a lot of attention from the media and politicians -- has Blankley forgotten Ross Perot? -- and polls suggested that deficits were a top concern:
In December 1994, the Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans named reducing the deficit a top priority, compared to 64 percent who said improving the job situation was a top priority. Compare that to January 2010, when Pew found that 81 percent of Americans consider improving the job situation a top priority, and 60 percent said the same of the deficit. (Pew's 2011 report on national priorities isn't out yet, but other recent polling has consistently shown that jobs are a higher priority than deficits.)
And on September 3, 1995, as the budget battle was heating up, the Washington Post quoted one top Republican saying that deficit reduction was "what we were elected to do." That Republican's name? Tony Blankley.
So when Blankley claims there is more public concern about the deficit now than in 1995-96, he appears to have things completely backwards.
The GOP's problem in 1995-96 wasn't that the public was less concerned then with deficits than it is now. It was that then, as now, the public cared about other things more, and rejected the Republicans efforts to gut Medicare and other government programs.
At the rate Blankley is going, it's only a matter of time before he urges House Speaker John Boehner to lash out at the seating arrangements on Air Force One, claiming that doing so worked out well for Gingrich.
Townhall columnist Tony Blankley, a top aide to House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, completely misrepresents that era:
Bill Clinton, of course, is famous for triangulating between the Republicans and the Democrats, moving to the center/right, signing the Republican welfare reform bill (which he had twice vetoed before the election of 1994, when the GOP thumpingly took back the House and Senate), agreed to the Republican-proposed balanced budget (which he steadfastly opposed before the election), proclaimed that the era of big government was over and, in his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, bragged about signing into law 14 items that had been in the Republican "Contract with America."
Bill Clinton did not veto welfare reform before the 1994 election. Didn't happen. In fact, he didn't veto anything before the 1994 election: The first veto of his presidency came in June of 1995. Clinton vetoed GOP welfare reform proposals in late 1995 and early 1996, after which he built up a 20-point lead over Bob Dole before signing a welfare package in August 1996. The difference between Tony Blankley's completely false history and the reality of what happened is not a trivial matter of misremembered dates: It fundamentally undercuts Blankley's point.
Nor did Clinton oppose a Republican-proposed balanced budget prior to the 1994 election, as Blankely suggests -- in part because there was no such budget. (Republicans did produce alternative budgets in 1993 and 1994 but neither was balanced.) In fact, the Republicans -- every one of them -- opposed Clinton's deficit-reducing 1993 budget. In the winter of 1995-96, Clinton vetoed the Republican budget, again undermining Blankley's portrayal of Clinton as quickly caving to GOP demands after the 1994 election.
Finally, I have no idea what Blankley thinks is the basis for claiming that Clinton "bragged" in his 1996 convention speech about "signing into law 14 items that had been in the Republican 'Contract with America.'" That contract contained only 10 bills -- and wasn't mentioned in Clinton's speech. More broadly, the suggestion that the speech was some conservative capitulation to the Republicans is ludicrous. In it, Clinton bragged about the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban and a minimum-wage increase -- none of which was popular with Republicans. He excoriated Republicans for producing a budget that contained "cuts that devastate education for our children, that pollute our environment, that end the guarantee of health care for those who are served under Medicaid, that end our duty or violate our duty to our parents through Medicare." He blasted the GOP's "risky $550 billion tax scheme that will force them to ask for even bigger cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment than they passed and I vetoed last year." And so on.
I understand why conservatives like Blankley and Andrew Malcolm want to pretend that Bill Clinton governed like an arch-conservative: He had considerably more success than the most recent president who was actually conservative. But it would be nice if they used some examples that are, you know, true.
Conservative media figures have used extreme and violent rhetoric to drum up support for the GOP in the midterm elections and have warned of the consequences of continued Democratic majorities in Congress.
From the July 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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In a July 26 Washington Times op-ed, Tony Blankley defended Andrew Breitbart in his smear of Shirley Sherrod, writing that when Breitbart posted his deceptively edited video of Sherrod, "he alerts the viewer, 'Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help.' It's in the video, and it is in the text of Mr. Breitbart's original post on the topic." Blankley then wrote: "Yet the mainstream media selectively edits out this exonerating fact in virtually every story about Mr. Breitbart. So the subsequent charge against Mr. Breitbart by the mainstream media that his editing was misleading is itself misleading and wrong."
As Media Matters has noted, a one-sentence reference to Sherrod's "basic humanity" does not "exonerat[e]" Breitbart or put the video in context, especially when framed by misleading snippets of information that underline Sherrod's purported racism. Further, Blankley does not note that, in his post, Breitbart continued to smear Sherrod, the Democrats, the NAACP, and the mainstream media for a "willingness to exploit race for political ends."
In a Washington Times column, Tony Blankley essentially calls for senators to filibuster the nomination of Elena Kagan to "save the Republic." His sole reason for calling for the filibuster is Kagan's testimony that "I don't have a view of what are natural rights independent of the Constitution, and my job as a justice will be to enforce and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States." In fact, as we've documented, Kagan's testimony about natural rights is consistent with testimony given by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas at his confirmation hearing.
In his column, Blankley attempts to contrast Kagan's testimony on natural rights with statements by Abraham Lincoln and former Chief Justice John Marshall. Blankley even concludes, "senators have had their warning: Side with Abraham Lincoln and the republic or with Elena Kagan."
Blankley quotes Kagan saying:
"To be honest with you, I don't have a view of what are natural rights independent of the Constitution, and my job as a justice will be to enforce and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States."
"I'm not saying I do not believe that there are rights pre-existent [to] the Constitution and the laws. But my job as a justice is to enforce the Constitution and the laws. You should not want me to act in any way on the basis of such a belief [in an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness] if I had one [said on being asked if she disagreed with the Declaration of Independence's enunciation of inalienable rights]."
But this testimony is not controversial. In fact, Clarence Thomas similarly stated at his hearing that he didn't "see a role for the use of natural law in constitutional adjudication." He testified:
As I indicated, I believe, or attempted to allude to in my confirmation to the Court of Appeals, I don't see a role for the use of natural law in constitutional adjudication. My interest in exploring natural law and natural rights was purely in the context of political theory. I was interested in that. There were debates that I had with individuals, and I pursued that on a part-time basis. I was an agency chairman.
From the June 26 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown:
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Right-wing media are falsely claiming that, in recent interviews and speeches, former President Bill Clinton compared the tea party movement to the domestic terrorists who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. In fact, Clinton did no such thing; rather, he stressed the importance of citizens' ability to criticize the government, and in drawing "parallels" to the rhetoric leading to the bombing and the rhetoric today, he specifically limited his criticism to those currently advocating or encouraging violence.
In his forthcoming book, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge reportedly claims that politics may have played a role in the question of whether to raise the terror threat levels on the eve of the November 2004 presidential election -- echoing contemporaneous allegations made by several progressives. Media Matters for America presents a sampling -- by no means exhaustive -- of media personalities who at the time portrayed those progressives as suffering from "cynicism" and "paranoia" and obsessed with a "conspiracy theory," despite credible evidence that the Bush administration was using the War on Terror for political gain, particularly in the months before the 2004 election.
Following the release of President Obama's proposal for the fiscal year 2010 budget, media figures and outlets have promoted a number of myths and falsehoods related to the proposal.
Numerous media outlets and personalities have claimed or suggested that given the size of the current and projected U.S. federal debt, the Obama administration's health-care reform proposal is untenable, but did not address the administration's argument that health-care reform is essential to the long-term economic health of the country.
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On The Situation Room, Tony Blankley and Wolf Blitzer mischaracterized President Obama's call back to The New York Times following an interview during which Obama was asked if he was a "socialist." Blankley asserted that Obama originally "answered and didn't like his answer and called back," to which Blitzer replied, "To clarify, to clarify." In fact, Obama explicitly made the point during the initial interview that he was not a "socialist"; rather, in his follow-up call, Obama criticized the Times' question.
After Matt Drudge posted the headline "ENEMIES LIST: WHITE HOUSE PLOTS LIMBAUGH COVERAGE" on his website, several media figures -- including Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Tony Blankley, and Newt Gingrich -- advanced Drudge's claim that Obama, like President Nixon, had an "enemies list," or compared the Obama White House to the Nixon administration.