It is true that we lost the image war when the government was shut down in 1995-1996. But let me explain why the confrontation arose -- and most importantly, why we need not lose such a battle now, if it should arise again.
The House of Representatives has only two institutional tools to use when in policy conflict with the executive branch: oversight hearings to expose the facts to the public, and the power of the purse. Any president can ride roughshod over a House majority unless the House threatens to withhold appropriated funds from disputed programs.
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 the ensuing public relations battle, Clinton won that image war and the public came to believe that Newt and the GOP needlessly shut down the government for no good reason.
We lost that battle for three reasons: 1) because the shutdown was falsely but effectively framed in the public mind as motivated by the personal pique of the speaker and the desire of the GOP to "cut Medicare in order to give tax cuts to the rich," 2) the issue of deficit spending and public debt was of much less concern to the public than it is now and 3) we were not able to deliver our interpretation of the issues directly to even our own supporters.
Back in 1995, there was no Fox News; there was no broadly used Internet; and conservative talk radio was not nearly as powerful as it is today. I had to try to get our message to the public through the filter of the mainstream media (New York Times, Washington Post, CNS, NBC, ABC, etc.) at a time when it was in fact mainstream. They were in no mood to fairly represent the facts, and we got shellacked.
Today, we are in the aftermath of an election that was largely about deficit spending and Obamacare (and the trillions most GOP voters correctly believe it will get us further in debt). So that not only is the deficit issue far more powerfully motivating than it was in 1995 -- but if the GOP fails to even try to seriously reduce the deficit (which means addressing, among other issues, Medicare and Social Security), it is likely to pay harshly in the next election for such inaction.
But equally importantly, with the massive alternative media, the GOP can effectively frame the issues as necessary for our future prosperity and the creation of millions of new jobs -- without having our message filtered out by the once mighty liberal media.
A principled fight for our prosperity and our children's future must not be delayed another two years. Nor should we fear failing to be able to effectively explain our objectives to the broad public.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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