The shutdown: Be afraid, Democrats. Be very afraid.

2. There’s no Newt Gingrich.

After he led Republicans to victory in 1994 midterm elections, Gingrich came out against Clinton with guns blazing. By the shutdown, the public had already begun to see him as petulant. Boehner, by contrast, has consciously avoided styling himself as the chief of the opposition, as Peter Boyer reported in December. What’s more, he enjoys a much higher favorable vs. unfavorable rating. Boehner’s low-key demeanor and repeated opposition to closing the government would make it hard for Democrats to pin a shutdown on anyone in particular. “The only thing that’s missing right now is the Newt Gingrich-type foil,” says Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “Gingrich’s petulance is what drove it the last time around. The Tea Party could play that role—too strident for the American people.” But pinning blame on a diffuse group of lesser-known representatives isn’t easy. Of course, it cuts both ways. Gingrich had total control, Ornstein says, and if Boehner had that kind of discipline in his ranks, there’d be no serious discussion about a shutdown.

3. Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton.

Asked why a shutdown might play to Democrats’ advantage, strategists on both sides of the aisle boil it down to two words: “bully pulpit.” It’s easier for the president to get his message out than it is for anyone else. The Obama administration has sometimes appeared reluctant to use that platform—witness, for example, its passive posture for much of the health-care debate—but has also sometimes stepped up, as it did in cutting a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts. One would expect Obama would make a strong case in the event of a shutdown. But would that help him in the longer term? Political scientist Brendan Nyhan points out that the shutdown didn’t really have much impact on Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, contrary to popular recollection. But also contrary to popular recollection, nearly half the public felt more negative about him because of the shutdown. Luckily for him, six out of 10 felt more negative about the Republicans, too. Vin Weber argues that Obama does best when things are happening—as in the lame-duck session, when the president irked conservatives (with repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) and liberals (with the tax-cut deal) alike—so a screeching halt to the work of government might be uniquely bad for him.