The Magazine


Nov 27, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 11 • By FRED BARNES
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Clinton's position may be unsustainable, but it will serve his purposes for a while. There was method in his madness. If an early deal with Gingrich on favorable terms for Clinton wasn't possible, the president was better off politically by prolonging the fight, at least past December 15. That's the filing date for presidential candidates in New Hampshire. Clinton wants desperately to avoid a primary challenger. An early settlement on Gingrich's terms might provoke one. But dragging out a fight with Gingrich keeps the president on good terms with the liberal base of his party, indeed with practically all Democrats. As the shutdown lingered, Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos gushed that the president "received the same standing ovation from the Democratic Leadership Council that he received from the Democratic caucus in the House." The one thing DLC and congressional Democrats agree on is hatred of Gingrich.

Clinton knows the acclaim, from liberals particularly, can't last. He's not looking for the struggle to end the same way as the movie The American President, which many at the White House saw. Stephanopoulos, among others, helped director Rob Reiner, a Clinton fan, on the film. In it, a slick, non- ideological president is transformed into a liberal crusader. The fictional president makes no deal with the devil. In real life, though, Clinton wants a budget deal with Gingrich. He wants to be able to claim, while running for re- election next year, that he overcame gridlock and cut taxes, cut spending, put the country on a credible path to a balanced budget, saved Medicare, and reformed welfare. Liberal Democrats won't like the accord Clinton ultimately reaches with Gingrich. But Clinton will have thrilled them temporarily by touting social spending programs and thwarting Gingrich.

Nothing delighted them more than Gingrich's discomfort after making the childish complaint he'd been treated rudely on Air Force One. Clinton didn't set Gingrich up for embarrassment, but it worked as if he had. On the flight from Israel, Gingrich expected to have budget discussions with the president. Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, had said talks would occur on the flight home. Clinton was ready to talk. But he'd been put off by a long chat with Gingrich and Dole three days before the trip. "They're just dug in," the president told an aide after that session. On the plane, he sent Leon Panetta, the White House chief of staff, to check whether Gingrich and Dole had softened their position. Panetta reported back that they hadn't. So Clinton slept, Gingrich fumed, and the government shut down. *

by Fred Barnes