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Fiscal Cliff: Bad for U.S., Good for Obama?

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

(The Root) — Though political pundits, economic experts and others increasingly discuss the nation's fiscal cliff in apocalyptic terms, referring to its potentially disastrous consequences for the majority of Americans, there is one person for whom going over the fiscal cliff might not be such a bad thing: President Barack Obama. 


In a new Washington Post-Pew poll, 53 percent of Americans will blame Republicans if America goes over a fiscal cliff, while just 27 percent will blame the president. Some might call this déjà vu all over again. 

In 1995 then-President Bill Clinton clashed with Republican leaders over finalizing a budget. After they failed to reach an agreement, the federal government shut down, with nearly a million workers temporarily out of work. A CNN poll conducted at the time found that 49 percent of Americans blamed GOP leaders for the shutdown, while only 26 percent blamed President Clinton. Furthermore, while 48 percent said that they approved of the president's handling of the talks, just 22 percent approved of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's. 


The fallout from the shutdown laid the groundwork for a number of political dominoes that would eventually fall. It solidified Gingrich's image as someone willing to put partisanship ahead of working with others to actually get things done for the American people, and that perception spread like a toxin affecting his party. After the Republican Revolution of 1994, when Republicans gained seats and, more important, control of the House, the GOP would lose seats in 1996 and President Clinton would gain re-election, despite an impeachment scandal.

By 1998 Gingrich, the architect of the Republican Revolution, was on his way out the door, having just barely survived a coup attempt at the hands of his own party, which had deemed him a liability. His departure paved the way for new leadership. Among the up-and-comers? Rep. John Boehner of Ohio. 

It remains to be seen if Boehner — having seen the costs to his party as well as to the man who once held his post — has learned lessons from the past and will strive accordingly for bipartisanship and compromise. If he doesn't, history is a reminder that his job and reputation may be on the line, not the president's.

Furthermore, if history is our guide, not only is President Obama's job safe, but it is possible that any fallout from going over a fiscal cliff could actually weaken Boehner's party, leaving Democrats in a position of strength going into the midterm elections of 2014. President Obama may not want to take the country over a fiscal cliff, but he may not mind leading Democrats back to power. 


Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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