/ 2 October 2013

Clinton, Obama and the US govt shutdown

US President Barack Obama speaks at a press briefing at the White House.
US President Barack Obama speaks at a press briefing at the White House.

Seventeen years ago, US former president Bill Clinton vetoed a Bill sent to him by the Republican-controlled Congress that wanted to get government spending under control. Clinton wanted to spend money on education, the environment, health and other "liberal" causes the Republicans believed were unnecessary. The Republicans wanted the budget cut, Clinton refused, and the government underwent a shutdown, much like the one we saw this week. 

The Republicans at that time were led by then newly appointed US House speaker Newton Gingrich, a future presidential candidate.

It then emerged that Gingrich was holding a grudge against Clinton. He  was "insulted" and "appalled" when, on a 25-hour flight back to the US on Air Force One after the the funeral of Israel's assassinated president, Yitzhak Rabin, Clinton didn't invite him to sit at the front of the plane. To add to the insult, when the plane landed in the US, Clinton allegedly had him disembark from the back of the plane and not the front, where the president himself exited.

As a result of the spat, Gringrich became a laughing stock. The Republicans also lost the budget fight during the shutdown. 

While the Republicans lost, Clinton also began to sow the seeds of his own destruction when he chose to "have sexual relations" with a certain Monica Lewinsky.

I remember him delivering that infamous line: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman". For a brief second, as the president stared into the camera, it looked as though he had actually forgotten what the name of "that woman" was. "Miss Lewinsky," he remembered. 

The US government was shut down from November 14 to 19 1995. Clinton had relations with Lewinsky in the White House on November 15 – the day after the shutdown. Clinton obviously needed to be keep busy. I think that the Republicans can safely be blamed for causing him to slip. Too much? Okay. 

According to the special independent prosecutor (who was actually a Republican) Kenneth Starr's report:

"At one point, Ms Lewinsky and the president talked alone in the chief of staff's office. In the course of flirting with him, she raised her jacket in the back and showed him the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants … she told him that she had a crush on him. He laughed, then asked if she would like to see his private office."

Because Clinton won the government shutdown, the Republicans wanted to find anything they could on him, and the Lewinsky scandal was perfect. The moral outrage of the Republicans could be heard from the heavens – and even from the depths of hell.

One of the legendary Clinton quotes from the shutdown was his rationalisation to the grand jury about why he wasn't lying when he said to his top aides that with respect to Lewinsky, "there's nothing going on between us". Here is what he said:

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is … if 'is' means is and never has been … that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement … Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."

So if US President Barack Obama wins this round against the Republicans, he should know that they will come down on him hard, with a great deal of zeal and hate. They will be more vehement than they were against Clinton.

Their hatred helped Clinton, though. Well, their hatred and Nelson Mandela. Clinton said that Mandela helped him through the scandal because "He [Nelson Mandela] said: 'You know, they already took everything. They took the best years of my life; I didn't get to see my children grow up. They destroyed my marriage. They abused me physically and mentally. They could take everything except my mind and heart. Those things I would have to give away and I decided not to give them away.' And then he said 'Neither should you'."

Clinton then focused on the work he was elected to do, not his hatred of the Republicans, and was re-elected, despite the sex scandal.

Obama is experiencing his own venomous hatred from the Republicans, and they will do anything to sink his presidency, even if it is at the expense of the country, as they did during the Clinton administration. From what everyone says, Obama does not have Clinton's propensity for indiscretion, so he should be fine.

Like Clinton, Obama's best moments come around when he is against the ropes. He delivered his uplifting "Yes we can" speech after he had lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton, an election he was expected to win. When he was done, no one was speaking about how he lost New Hampshire, but about the great speech he delivered.

When Reverend Jeremiah Wright almost sank Obama's bid for the presidency, he delivered what I believe to be his greatest speech – "A more perfect union". Again, the speech received so much play everyone forgot about Reverend Wright. Most recently, when he lost his first debate against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, he came back swinging.

I just hope Obama doesn't have a Lewinsky moment. In fact, he should avoid a visit from Beyoncé because I will never forget seeing that picture of her standing next to her husband Jay-Z and looking at Obama like she has an uncontrollable schoolgirl crush. Oh, was that too much? It depends on what the word, "was" means, then I can tell you if it was too much or not.