When pulling a Clinton 'triangulation,' where Obama should diverge
Score one for President Obama. While many on the left are furious about the tax cut deal, the president has won over the pundits--and, quite possibly, a number of independent voters--with the tax cut extension, which the House approved late on Thursday. The controversial bill now goes to the White House, where Obama will have the chance to sign into law what very well may be a turning point in his presidency.
In recent weeks, the comparisons to Clinton's "triangulation" strategy have been ubiquitous. Countless arguments among the professional and amateur class of talking heads have been waged over not only how to define triangulation--really just a fancy word made up by a consultant to stand for moving toward the center--but whether or not what Obama is doing really fits the mold. "In this more expansive sense of the epithet, one can reasonably tag Mr. Obama as a triangulator," writes Matt Bai in The New York Times. "In striking his tax deal ... Mr. Obama effectively said that the perfect could not be the enemy of the better, and that this was the best he could do."
Call it whatever you want, but Obama is pulling a Clinton-esque move, doing his best to court voters in the middle. Still, by making the tax cut deal the first step toward that approach, he differs in one important way. Critics of "triangulation" have said it led to Clinton playing "small ball"--cooperating with Republicans on smaller issues such as school uniforms and television technology--finding "symbolic, superficial or trivial" areas, as The National Review's Jonah Goldberg puts it, to show he could cooperate.
Tax policy, of course, is none of those things. And if Obama really wants to be the transformational leader he campaigned to be, he'll have to make sure the rest of his priorities over the next two years aren't either.
So far, it appears that may be the case. The White House is already planning more centrist moves on major issues such as tax reform, spending cuts, global trade promotion and even Social Security, reports The Wall Street Journal. He has to, if you think about it. Clinton was able to focus on smaller issues because in 1994 the U.S. was on the early end of a remarkable boom in economic growth, while Obama is trying to navigate more centrist politics amid record unemployment, a slowly recovering economy and a devastatingly high national debt.
Leadership types like to talk about new leaders first earning "small wins" to shore up assurances, and then building onto more difficult goals. And he's doing just that, focusing first on less controversial goals like the South Korea trade deal and education reform to build confidence. If he moves on to the most substantial issues--and is able to score some hard-fought and, no doubt, extremely difficult-to-achieve bipartisan wins--it's unlikely anyone will be questioning whether he should be called a triangulator or not come 2012. They'll just be calling him president.
December 17, 2010; 12:42 PM ET |
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