For the Republicans, the gaffes were much more public. With their noncompromising attitude, they played right into the Democrats' strategy of blaming the GOP for the government shutdown. Just before Christmas, Bob Livingston took the floor and bellowed on and on about the GOP's absolute determination to stare down Clinton come Hell or Armageddon. “We will never, never, never give in.... We will stay here till Doomsday."At NRO, Andrew Stiles writes:
Looking back, Livingston acknowledges that he and his fellow Republicans made a severe political miscalculation. "The shutdown in retrospect was a mistake and I heavily contributed to that by giving one of the worst speeches of my life," he told me. "It was kind of a Howard Dean speech. At the time the federal employees thought I was crazy and my mother thought I was crazy. She called me and said, `Don't ever give those speeches again.' We handled it badly. It was not a mistake at all in concept. The concept is better used as a threat than in implementation.
Historically speaking, it is rather remarkable that Washington hasn’t experienced a government shutdown in nearly two decades. The shutdowns of the mid 1990s have been the subject of much debate. Beyond that, however, the chattering class appears to suffer from a short memory, as it often does.
At this point in Ronald Reagan’s second term, for example, the government had already shut down six times, for a total of twelve days, as a result of failed budget negotiations between the White House, a Republican Senate, and House Democrats under the leadership of Speaker Tip O’Neill (D., Mass.) — precisely the opposite of the political dynamic that exists today. Former O’Neill staffer and MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews has written an entire book extolling that era as a time “when politics worked.” (You can probably guess how he feels about the current situation.)
O’Neill presided over a total of seven government shutdowns under Reagan, and five during the Jimmy Carter administration, meaning that he played a role in precisely two-thirds of all the government shutdowns since the modern budgeting process has been in place. Representative Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) pointed this out to Matthews on Meet the Press on Sunday, noting that O’Neill was never called a terrorist for shutting the government down over budget negotiations. Matthews didn’t care for the reminder and even questioned the source of Labrador’s claim; it was the Washington Post.