Howard Dean may love big government, but he’d apparently love it to go away for a few days.  In a panel discussion this morning sponsored by National Journal, Dean says that Democrats should be “quietly rooting” for a budget impasse to bring the federal government to a halt, because he’s certain who will get the blame:

Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, sees an upside to a looming government shutdown – at least politically.

“If I was head of DNC, I would be quietly rooting for it,” said Dean, speaking on a National Journal Insider’s Conference panel Tuesday morning. “I know who’s going to get blamed – we’ve been down this road before.”

The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate was alluding to 1995 and 1996, when two government shutdowns under a Republican Congress helped improve President Clinton’s reelection chances. The scenario could repeat this year as budget negotiations continue to falter, and Dean said he thinks the public will blame Republicans again.

Well, it’s certainly possible that Republicans will get blamed if the budget impasse results in another government shutdown, but Dean shouldn’t be so certain.  In 1995, Republicans played chicken with Bill Clinton over their own budget, not a budget that Democrats refused to create while they held the majority.  If the government comes to a halt because Congress can’t agree on a budget that Democrats could and should have passed seven months ago, it’s no sure bet that Republicans will end up owning that failure.

Besides, the environment has changed dramatically since 1995.  Republicans took control of Congress over a series of scandals and a sense that Congress had grown too detached from the people they regulated and not so much on spending or economic issues.  Unemployment was relatively low and dropping, and deficits were a concern but not a crisis.  That is very different from today’s environment.  Even if the shutdown took place over the FY2012 budget in the fall rather than the rump FY2011 budget, the crisis stage of the deficit and national debt will make Democratic suggestions of merely a few billion in cuts look ridiculous to an electorate that just tossed them out the House majority over budgetary and economic issues in the midterm elections last year.

If that’s the ground on which Democrats want to play chicken, then they should dig their heels in on spending like drunken sailors and hope voters believe that nothing’s wrong at all with running trillion-dollar-plus annual deficits.  Let them follow Dean’s war cry and see if takes them any farther than it took Dean in 2004.