Michael Barone

We're in a different political environment now in two important respects. The first is the media. There was no Internet or blogosphere in 1995; Fox News Channel did not start until October 1996; talk radio was in its infancy, with Rush Limbaugh already an important national voice but with few other conservative hosts on the air.

In that environment, liberal-inclined media were able to tell the story and frame the issue the way they liked without much dissent. ABC's Peter Jennings could compare voters who supported Gingrich Republicans to infants having a tantrum. Such voices don't have a monopoly today.

The second significant difference is that in the mid-1990s the economy was growing and it was not clear why we needed to limit government spending. We could afford more for this, that and the other thing.

Now we're in straitened circumstances, just out of a severe recession (though many voters don't think it's over just yet) and in a very restrained and anemic recovery. We've seen that a substantial increase in government spending -- from 21 percent to 25 percent of gross domestic product -- hasn't done much to stimulate economic growth. And we've seen that government kept growing even as the private sector suffered.

In that setting, pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 58 percent of likely voters would rather have a government shutdown until both parties can agree on spending cuts, while only 33 percent would prefer spending at the same levels as last year.

Liberal poll critics may say, correctly, that the question frames the issue the way Republican politicians would like. But that's the point. Republican politicians today have a much better chance to persuade voters to view issues the way they do than they did in the Clinton-Gingrich days.

All of which explains why Obama and congressional Democrats seem more willing to make concessions than Clinton was. And why we're not hearing the phrase "train wreck" much anymore.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM