Julian E. Zelizer: Is It 1994 All Over Again?





[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" published by Times Books and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration published by Princeton University Press.]

In the weeks running up to the election, there were some commentators who concluded that the current situation would be the best outcome for President Obama.

Pointing to the example of the 1994 midterms, which gave Republicans control of Congress, they have argued that a bad outcome for Democrats would ironically allow Obama to regain his standing....

Yet this analogy rests on a selective memory of what happened after 1994, which is particularly surprising from someone who worked in the administration. The period that followed those midterms was among the most contentious in recent American politics.

Republicans conducted a series of investigations into the Clinton administration, which consumed an enormous amount of time and political energy from the White House. The investigations culminated in Clinton's impeachment proceedings.

The partisan battles took their toll. While Osama bin Laden and his minions were preparing to attack the United States, Washington was engaged in bitter partisan wars over Clinton's relationship with an intern. As the historian Steve Gillon recounted, the partisanship also drowned a secret effort by Gingrich and Clinton to reach a bipartisan pact on Social Security reform....

We should hope that the United States is not about to live through a repeat performance of what occurred after 1994. The nation faces too many pressing economic and foreign policy problems to have that happen again.

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