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Shutdown Politics, Bill Clinton-Style

If the government shuts down on Oct. 1, hundreds of thousands of federal employees could be temporarily forced out of their jobs — and we will almost certainly begin to hear a few of their stories soon after.

On NPR's Tell Me More Friday, Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor, reminded us of a Social Security Administration worker, Richard Dean, who was laid off during the 1995-96 government shutdown and thrust into the forefront of the budget debate by President Bill Clinton.

What made his story unique?

Dean not only survived the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombings at his workplace but rescued three women that day, earning him an invitation from Clinton to the 1996 State of the Union address.

Here's what Clinton had to say about Dean in his Jan. 23 speech:

"This last November, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. And the second time the government shut down, he continued helping Social Security recipients, but he was working without pay. On behalf of Richard Dean and his family and all the other people who are out there, working every day doing a good job for the American people, I challenge all of you in this chamber, never ever shut the federal government down again."

Elving recounts what the reaction was like:

"You could hear some groans from the audience as Clinton went there. He set them up first by setting him up as a hero from the Oklahoma City [bombing], and then of course he pulls the rug out from under them by saying, 'And he's one of the people you put out of a job last November.' He was not put out of a job in any sort of permanent way. And the money that he didn't make during the weeks of the shutdown was retroactively paid to him and to other federal employees."

Elaine Kamarck, a former Clinton aide, wrote this week for the Brookings Institute that Clinton and Vice President Al Gore decided to bring Dean in at the last minute — and not tell their speechwriters.

Dean's moment in the spotlight was brief, but as Kamarck and others have argued, his story may have provided Clinton with the timely boost he needed to come out on top in the public relations war over the budget showdown.

You can hear Tell Me More guest host Celeste Headlee's full interview with Elving here.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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