The frequency with which America has previously reached this point betrays another inconvenient truth: the willingness to shut down the federal Leviathan is by no means limited to the advocates of small government. As my colleague Andrew Stiles notes today, during the supposedly bipartisan wonder years of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill — which are typically rolled out by revisionists to demonstrate what can happen if we all just “work together” — the government shut down no fewer than eight times, mostly at O’Neill’s insistence. Likewise, during Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, which are fondly remembered as a time of solid economic growth and bipartisan achievement, the government was sent home twice — on both occasions after Clinton rejected the budget.
Overall, the statistics might surprise: Of the 17 shutdowns in America’s history, Democrats controlled the House during 15 and had charge of both chambers during eight. Five shutdowns happened under unified government! This makes sense. Government shutdowns are caused by legitimate and welcome disagreement between equal branches. They are certainly more likely to happen in divided government, but it is not a prerequisite.
What stands out here is not the shutdown itself, but the president and Harry Reid’s public refusal even to engage with Republicans.