Looking back, Republicans concede that Clinton had their number. They particularly remember the January 1996 State of the Union address, when, after the shutdown was over -- actually there were two separate shutdowns a few weeks apart -- Clinton laid a trap that still makes them wince today. Praising the dedication and commitment of federal workers, Clinton pointed to a man named Richard Dean, a Social Security employee who was in the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., when it was bombed on April 19, 1995. Escaping the rubble, Dean went back into the building and saved three lives. Clinton brought him to Washington to attend the speech.
When Clinton asked the audience to applaud Dean's service and heroism, lawmakers, including all the Republicans in the room, burst into an extended standing ovation. But Clinton had more to say. "Richard Dean's story doesn't end there," he continued. "This last November, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. And the second time the government shut down, he continued helping Social Security recipients, but he was working without pay." For workers like Dean, Clinton said, "I challenge all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again."
Democrats burst into applause; Gingrich sat on his hands. Republicans knew they had been outfoxed again; ask Paxon how he felt at that moment, and he recalls a single word: "Oops." Clinton later bragged about the "zinger" that stuck it to his opponents. "I didn't think I had to worry about a third government shutdown," he wrote in his memoir, "My Life."
Could it happen again? Possibly. On the other hand, some of the veterans of 1995 believe Obama is good, but not that good.
None of this is to suggest that a government shutdown would be a good thing. It wouldn't. But Republicans are beginning to think that this time, it might turn out differently.
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