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From the Clinton Wars to the New Shut Down Confederates

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(Article changed on October 12, 2013 at 06:53)

The 2013 shut down of the government by Tea Party Republicans is not an event that just spontaneously sprung up this year, but rather is the result of over twenty years of actions each building on the next that made this conflict predictable if not inevitable.

Great conflicts require formidable adversaries.  Yet from 1968 to 1988, Republicans had a virtual lock on the White House winning on average by 52.7% -- 43.0%, with the sole exception being Jimmy Carter's narrow victory following Watergate.  Then came William Jefferson Clinton who was able to beat President Bush in a three-way race with only 43 percent of the vote.

The Republicans recognized right away the threat posed by a successful New Democrat and they were determined at the outset to challenge his legitimacy and to obstruct wherever possible.  House Speaker Gingrich, who once said that Clinton supporters were "the enemy of normal Americans," believed that they had to fight the Democrats "with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars" -- and he delivered.

"Clinton Not My President"

President Clinton told Joel Klein that:

After I got here and started dealing with them, I realized that the Republicans had been in power since Nixon . . . They figured there'd never be another Democratic President.  . . .  So they just never saw me as a legitimate person.

Prominent Republicans such as Representative Dick Armey and Senate candidate Oliver North openly declared Clinton was not their President.

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Klein himself wrote in The Natural:

From the beginning of his presidency, there was indeed the sense -- radiating from the Gingrich wing of the Republican Party . . . that the new President was a usurper who had managed to hoodwink the American public.  He was to be opposed at every turn, by any means necessary, and, if possible, destroyed.

Devolution on Health Care

With today's reflexive rants that Obamacare is part of a godless, socialist plot, forgotten are the origins of the Clinton and Obama proposals. The Clinton plan was spurred in part by a push by the Business Roundtable for universal coverage since health care costs were becoming a competitive burden. Items such as the individual mandate came from the conservative Heritage Foundation's proposal  entitled "A National Health System for America."

Republicans initially sought to push a compromise proposal, the "Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993," which also included an individual mandate. Introduced by Senator Chafee (R-RI), the bill had 18 Republican co-sponsors including conservative Senators Bennett (R-UT), Grassley (R-IA) and Hatch (R-UT) who would later lead the charge against Obamacare.

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As Jacob Weisberg explains in Slate, it was at this point we witnessed the death of the Responsible Republicans.  Former Vice President Quayle aide William Kristol wrote a memo to Republican leadership stressing that "the Clinton proposal is also a serious political threat to the Republican Party" and therefore Republicans must "adopt an aggressive and uncompromising counterstrategy designed to delegitimize the proposal".

As a result the Republicans abandoned all compromise proposals, health care reform died and Republicans were rewarded for their efforts by taking control of both houses of Congress following the 1994 election.  Weisberg notes that it was the embrace of Kristol's recommendation that

marks the pivotal moment when Republicans shifted from fundamentally responsible partners in governing the country to uncompromising, hyperpartisan antagonists on all issues.

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Bennet Kelley is an award winning columnist, a political commentator, radio host and the former Co-Founder and National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee's Saxophone Club (its young professional fund raising and outreach arm during the (more...)

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