Out-Republicaning the Republicans: Obama Revives Clinton's Disastrous Triangulation Strategy
"It was Bill Clinton who recognized that the categories of conservative and liberal played to Republican advantage and were inadequate to address our problems," President Obama wrote in his book The Audacity of Hope. "Clinton's third way...tapped into the pragmatic, non-ideological attitude of Americans."
Clinton's "third way" was "triangulation," a term and strategy invented by his pollster Dick Morris. Triangulation is a candidate's attempt to position himself above and between the left and the right. A Democrat, Clinton insulated himself from Republican attacks by appropriating many of their ideas.
Obama is even more of a triangulator than Clinton.
Triangulation can work for candidates in the short term. Clinton got reelected by a landslide in 1996. (It failed, though, for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.) But triangulation hurts parties, which sell an ideological point of view. Clinton worked so hard to out-Republican the Republicans that he forgot he was a Democrat. He also forgot that Democratic voters expected to see liberal policies.
Clinton's greatest achievements ended up being Republican platform planks: free trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, welfare reform, balancing the federal budget on the backs of the poor and working class.
By the way, Dick Morris is now a Republican. Maybe he always was.
Because of Clintonian triangulation, the liberal base of the Democratic Party saw the 1990s as a squandered opportunity: eight years of unprecedented economic expansion with not one new social program, not even national healthcare, to show for it. They got the message: voting Democratic doesn't guarantee Democratic policies. Unenthused, liberals stayed home or voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Liberal disgust for triangulation (they called it "selling out") sufficiently reduced Al Gore's margin of victory to allow George W. Bush to steal Florida and the national election. It took the Democrats six years to begin to recover.
Obama ran as a centrist. It would come as little surprise if he were governing as one.
But he's not a moderate president.
Obama is a Republican.
A right-wing Republican. Thanks to triangulation gone wild.
In his first year Obama chose to continue numerous Bush Administration policies, many of which originated in the far extreme wing of the GOP. Each of the following asterisks represents a broken campaign promise:
- Keeping the Guantánamo torture camp open*
- Continuing the war against Iraq*
- Expanding the war against Afghanistan
- Renewing the USA Patriot Act*
- No-string bank bailouts
- Continuing "military commission" kangaroo trials*
- Reserving the right to torture*
- Continuing the NSA's "domestic surveillance" program of spying on innocent Americans' emails and phone calls*
It took over a year, but Obama can finally point to two legislative achievements: healthcare reform and reducing private banks' role in the issuance of student loans. The student loan bill, though a step in the right direction, is liberal but too modest. Student loans ought to be replaced by grants. Ultimately, universities and colleges will have to be nationalized.
Obama's revamp of healthcare, on the other hand, goes too far, perverting the liberal desire to provide healthcare for all Americans into a transfer of wealth from poor to rich that the hard right never dreamed of.
Buying into the classic, flawed, American assumption that a bad system can't get worse (ask the Iraqis and Afghans), ObamaCare entrusts 30 million new customers, to the tune of roughly ten grand a year each, to the tender mercies of private insurance companies.
ObamaCare pours hundreds of billions of dollars, some from taxpayers, the rest from poor people, into the gaping coffers of giant corporations. Once people find themselves paying even more for visits to the same crappy doctors and hospitals they can't afford now, they'll hold the Dems responsible at the polls. If Republicans stopped to think, they'd love it.
And if Democrats stopped to think, they'd hate it.
Most Americans, and almost all liberal Democrats, want socialized medicine. Like they have in the rest of the world. Failing that, they were willing to settle for single-payer. When Obama let it be known that Mr. Audacity was going to lead as anything but, they prayed for a "public option."
What they got: zero.
Actually, less than zero: We were better off before. Taxes will go up for the already insured. For those about to be forcibly insured, they'll have to pay more. And here's the kicker: not only will the insurance companies be making higher profits at our expense, so will the federal government.
The Congressional Budget Office, invariably described in pieces like this as "the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office," projects that the U.S. Treasury will come out ahead by $130 billion over 10 years.
Deficit negativity helped score votes among Democratic deficit hawks in Congress. But again, think about it: If the healthcare bill is making a profit for the U.S. government, where is that $130 billion coming from?
Correct: you and me. Our taxes will be higher than they should be, our health benefits will be less.
Obama, the media and many of us have forgotten what the problem was in the first place. Healthcare costs were too high. Thanks to this monster of a bill, they'll go even higher.
The government should not make a profit off sick people.
Even the Republicans wouldn't propose a tax this regressive.
Now Obama is echoing Sarah Palin, right-winger-turned-Tea-Partier. "Drill, baby, drill!" says the president, guaranteeing oil-soaked beaches decades after he has retired. It's a terrible policy for the environment, won't lower gas prices by one red penny, and will further turn off liberal Democrats.
Democrats will lose seats in Congress this fall. It may already be too late for Democrats to keep the White House in 2012. But if they continue to follow the Clinton-Obama triangulation strategy, they could destroy themselves for years to come. They might even expose the overall bankruptcy of our two-party pseudo-democracy.
Copyright 2010 Ted Rall