Rich Galen

President Barack Obama, fresh from having his lunch money taken from him by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, is flailing about trying to find someone he can shift the public’s attention to.

He has chosen House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh) as the person and the upcoming end of the U.S. government’s fiscal year on September 30 as his verbal weapon.

I think that is the wrong fight against the wrong guy.

The last time we were headed down the road to actually shutting down the federal government was in late 1995 and early 1996. Two main players – and this is important – were President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich was the brilliant, but divisive architect of the GOP takeover of the U.S. House in the elections of 1994. According to the Gallup organization,

“By January of 1996, 57% of Americans said that their image of Gingrich was unfavorable, compared with 37% who had a favorable image of him.”

Only six percent had no opinion.

Clinton’s numbers were not much better: In January 1996 his job approval was barely above water at 47-44 – but still a full 13 percentage points better than Gingrich’s.

In the end, Congress did force the government to shut down – twice – and it was not popular with the folks, even though the actually impact was negligible – largely due to the length, 21 days, and the time of year, December 16 through January 6, when much of the country effectively shuts down for the holidays anyway. Obama’s attempting to duplicate Clinton’s victory over Gingrich will fail on a number of fronts. First of all Obama v. Boehner doesn’t have the same ring as Clinton v. Gingrich.

Gingrich was the perfect foil for Clinton. In large part due to the thousands of ads Democrats ran against Gingrich, he was like the Golden Arches. All Clinton had to say was “Gingrich” and most people believed they knew everything they needed to know about him.

Boehner, for better or for worse, is no Gingrich. Nor are the other leaders in the House and Senate. According to Rasmussen polling the House and Senate leadership’s fave-unfave numbers are as follows:

House: Boehner 30 – 53 Pelosi 33-56 Senate: McConnell 26-46 Reid 28-49

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Clinton had a very strong team that was like Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes: Three yards and a cloud of dust. Their mantra was (as I remember it):

“Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment.”

You could ask Paul Begala if he’d eaten lunch yet and he’d say “Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment.”

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at