That Ain’t Triangulatin’
2 Shades of Centrism: David Leonhardt writes that Obama’s strategy of trying to “transcend the partisan divide and win over Republicans” has failed. It’s time to draw some clear partisan lines and carry the debate to the midterms. I say there is a third way! It’s the way that worked for Bill Clinton–not “transcendence” or partisanship but triangulation, which in my definition means actively pushing off against right and left.
When has Obama ever pushed off vigorously against the left? Even on the rare occasions when he disagrees with his allies–as with charter schools–he doesn’t rebut them vigorously in public. He’s been doing something vaguer, less transparent, and less popular. Bloomberg‘s Clive Crook puts it better than I’ve been able to:
“An enraged and unhinged minority of voters apparently wants to see the liberal agenda attacked by any means necessary, even if it means paralyzing the government and wrecking the economy. But a far wider segment wants to see the progressive program at least questioned and held in check — and who will do that, if not the Republican Party?
“The answer to that question could have been and should have been the president. Many Democrats criticize Obama for being too centrist and accommodating, but this is a false reading. True, Obama has often given ground under pressure, which has made him look weak. But when has he ever led the country to a workable compromise, rather than being led there? He’s always the reluctant centrist, never the centrist by conviction.”
The beauty of triangulation is that you only have to do it on a few issues to win the goodwill that lets you be a tough partisan on others. Most obviously, Obama could have helped defuse fear of too-big liberal government by leading a charge to find and cut the waste in Washington. (He could, for example, have embraced the sequester cuts if he was allowed to apportion them.) If Congressional Dems squawked, so much the better for his popularity and power. But perhaps we elected a President who isn’t interested in how the nuts and bolts of government work–as long as he worries about the big legislation, what goes on in the bureaucratic boxes is a second order problem, right? If that’s what Obama thinks, his health care rollout is, as they say, a teachable moment.