Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Aug 19, 2009 in At TMV | 6 comments

Is Obama Playing The Triangle ?

I don’t know whether President Obama has any musical talent or if he plays any particular instrument. But his actions over the past few weeks have made me start to wonder if he’s taking a page from the Clinton playbook. After his landslide defeat in the 1994 elections President Clinton adopted the the now famous triangulation strategy in which he pitted himself against Congressional Republicans on one side and Congressional Democrats on the other.

The triangle game is, for me, most interesting in the fact that it often takes fringe elements and promotes them to the poster boy for each side while ignoring the many reasonable people on both sides who want to accomplish something. At the same time, this posturing is (oddly enough) often just what is needed to neutralize those fringe elements and allow the people in the middle to work things out.

For example during the Clinton years. Many people on both sides of the welfare reform (and other) debates were quite reasonable but it was the ideologues who got the press time and it was Clinton who cleverly used those perceptions to moderate his own image, even if he personally might have sided more with his own party than not.

This strategy came to mind as we saw little hints coming out in the press that the Obama administration was considering dropping the public option on the health care reform plan. This brought immediate howls of protest from the hard left of the party which echoed similar (if ideologically reversed) protests from the hard right of the GOP over alleged ‘death panels’ and other such nonsense.

In the sphere of media hyperbole, this interestingly (and perhaps deliberately) places Obama at the middle, between the ‘make everyone use the government plan’ hard left and the ‘no reform at all’ of the hard right. Of course I think it’s fair to say that we have plenty of reasonable people on both sides of the debate, just as it was in the 1990’s.

Now the Obama White House is trying to play with the triangle trade, but they play the game at their own risk. The system works fine as long as you (as the President) are more or less in the centrist mold, or at least willing to sublimate your own ideology for success in a ‘half a loaf’ sort of world view.

This worked for Clinton (I am not going to speculate as to which of the above camps he falls in to) but I am not sure it will work as well for Obama. He strikes me as having a much deeper ideological core than Clinton and he while he did come up in the world of Chicago compromise politics, the compromise was not with Republicans or the right but with fellow Democrats.

Looking to Obama I think it’s pretty clear that at minimum he wants a public option system, if not a full blown single payer (I know what he has said, but we all know politics is the art of doublespeak). During the Clinton years I do not recall as much back and forth on the White House position, and the comments by Gibbs and others may be a sign that Obama is not entirely comfortable with the compromise concept.