As Congress goes under the bus, "principles" trump triangulation!

While he was guest blogging for Glenn Reynolds yesterday, Michael Totten linked an interesting analysis which tends to confirm my previous suspicions:

...for those seeking a true measure of Obama's judgment, on both policy and politics, the meeting between the president and Senate Democrats yesterday was much more instructive. Obama's words made it clear that, notwithstanding his party's recent election losses at the polls and its declining poll ratings, he has no intention of embarking on a Bill Clinton-style "triangulation" strategy.
This is not surprising. As I argued earlier, if Obama moves to the center now, not only would he look weak, but there's a serious risk that he might just save enough congressional seats to keep it in Democratic hands. And if that happens, the American voters (who remain center-right) would be much more inclined to vote him out in 2012.

But if OTOH, the Republicans re-take Congress in the fall, that dramatically increases Obama's chances of reelection (as the guy who would help keep in place that reassuring gridlock that American voters historically favor). Say what you want about Obama, but I think he's smart enough to realize this.

If my theory is correct, then once the Democrats lose Congress, then and only then would the Obama triangulation strategy begin in earnest. I think that any comparisons with Clinton triangulation are thus premature, and I think it should be remembered that Clinton's triangulation began after the disastrous Democratic losses in 1994 (which was the birth of the "Contract With America").

There's plenty of time for triangulation. Meanwhile, it is in Obama's best interest to have his party lose.

What's especially remarkable about this is that even as he betrays his party, he is nonetheless being praised for his "principles" -- by the very people he is screwing:

The second striking thing was how easily he appeared to write off [Senator Blanche] Lincoln politically. Conceding nothing, he implied that her defeat was not only a foregone conclusion, but also an acceptable price to pay for staying the course on policy. To be sure, maybe the whole thing was just kabuki -- Lincoln standing up to the president for the benefit of the folks back home who don't like him, and Obama obligingly playing his part. But it sure looked pretty spontaneous to me.

The Lincoln-Obama debate epitomized the left-vs.-center debate within the Democratic Party these days, which is much broader than health care, even though it is necessarily focused on that for the moment. The question is whether the party should cut its losses on comprehensive health reform, or keep pursuing it despite the political headwinds, on the grounds that even an initially unpopular bill would be easier to defend than no bill at all.

David Plouffe, back in the White House to direct post-Massachusetts political operations, favors nailing the party's colors to the health-care mast. He wrote recently in the Post that "if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside. If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits take effect this year."

Obama's answer to Lincoln suggests that he fully embraces the Plouffe strategy. I don't understand it. Independently of what anyone might think of the health-care bill's merits, the public's attitude is hardening against it; it is politically toxic, period. If Virginia and New Jersey didn't prove that, Massachusetts did. And November could prove it again. If the Dems tip-toe away from health care now, it would be embarrassing, but they would at least give the electorate time to forget the issue and focus on the Democrats' other accomplishments -- if they can come up with some between now and November.

Still, give the president credit: No one can accuse him of bending his principles to politics. Of course, if there's a price to be paid for that this year, he won't be the one paying it. Blanche Lincoln, among others, will get to do that.

He won't be the one paying it.

Truer words were never spoken.

But in general, few Democrats seem to really care about whether he's betraying his party. The important part of the White House strategy is that he be sung the praises for standing up for his principles.

For now, of course.

What I can't figure out is how many Democrats -- especially the rank and file -- have caught on to him. I suspect that in elite Democratic circles, a decision has already been made to basically throw Congress under the proverbial bus now in order to save the Obama administration later, but they don't want the ordinary people to know. Hence the sycophantic talk of "principles" -- and the meme fits the Obama as hero narrative. Plenty of Democrats will buy it. (Plus, it's red meat for the hard left base.)

And when the time comes from him to finally be "forced" to move to the center, he will have had no choice, and they can blame the Republicans.

That the Democratic elite seem to prefer having an Obama administration with a Republican Congress to a Democratic Congress with a Republican president begs the question of what people on the right might prefer.

I realize this isn't a professional poll, nor are my readers necessarily on the right, but short of Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress, but I'm just wondering.... If you had to choose, how many of you might prefer an Obama presidency with a Republican Congress? Or A Republican president with a Democratic Congress?

If you had to choose, which would you prefer?
An Obama presidency with a Republican Congress?
A Republican presidency with a Democratic Congress? free polls

MORE: The president's fascinating call to his fellow Democrats to "just turn off... the blogs" is making sense, especially because the advice was directed to a Democrat faced with the lose of his seat:

The president's advice came in answer to a question from Sen. Mike Bennet, D-CO, who is facing a difficult re-election fight back home and wanted to know what Democrats and Republicans can do "to fix this institution so that our democracy can actually withstand the test that we're facing right now."

"You know what I think would actually make a difference, Michael? I think if everybody here -- excuse all the members of the press who are here -- if everybody here turned off your CNN, your Fox, your blogs," Obama said, before being interrupted by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who piped up, "And MSNBC!"

Obama, appropriately reminded of the network with shows more friendly to liberals, continued, "Just turn off the TV -- MSNBC, blogs -- and just go talk to folks out there, instead of being in this echo chamber where the topic is constantly politics. ... It is much more difficult to get a conversation focused on how are we going to help people than a conversation about how is this going to help or hurt somebody politically."

(Via Glenn Reynolds.) Hmmm... Does this mean all my Democratic readers are going to turn off this blog? No more Democrats reading Classical Values, by presidential edict? I'm devastated. Crushed!

And frankly, I think they're more than a little bit jealous of the rebellious Tea Party phenomenon, because they're the ones in power, which means they cannot protest, cannot, um, fight the power.

God, how they must hate seeing people on the right doing that.

posted by Eric on 02.06.10 at 02:05 PM


How do they all fit under there?

TallDave   ·  February 6, 2010 10:45 PM

It is a BIG bus.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 6, 2010 10:53 PM

I'm not sure why people think "Clinton-style triangulation" did any good.
Under Clinton, the Dems lost ground on all fronts. After 8 years of prosperity and a friendly media his VP could not win the election (or it was so close that his party screwing up in Palm Beach cost him the election).
Clintons help Clintons.
The only policy objectives he accomplished were NAFTA (using the GOP to beat his own party) and DADT.
Everything else was the GOP congress doing it despite him, like welfare reform.

Bill lived in a perfect storm.
It was the End of History, we had no real enemies so we could be frivolous after decades of war and the threat of annihilation.
Not having to worry about the Commie, Nazi or Yellow Hordes was cool. We didn't need no starchy Republicans talking about reality, we wanted a cheerul liar/used car salesman to tell us sweet, sweet lies.

The Information Age was beginning with its attendant increase in standard of living. The more we can have machinery do, the cheaper it is to do, which means that poor people in America right live better than 99% of all humans who have ever lived.

And of course, he was aided and abetted by a compliant media. Anything good for the Dems was blared, anything bad was blamed on the GOP. "Impeachment was all about sex" is still believed by a huge percentage of America. There was the NYTimesWashPostCNNABCCBSNBCetc. and in the other corner, Rush Limbaugh.

My box for Obama is marked, "Inept, radical leftist/marxist, Chicago-machine-politican".

The only thing he knows about non-radical-leftist America is that we're all stupid and something about NASCAR.

Clinton, of course, assumed all of America was stupid ("I didn't inhale." accused me of being stupid by its very utterance). He counted on it. I'm sure he used to sit around with Carville and laugh at some of the bullshit the NY Times or CNN swallowed.

The biggest difference, I think, is that Clinton didn't believe in anything but power for Clinton, Obama really believes in radical leftist/marxist bullshit so he can't even help himself.
He really believes that if we just weren't too stupid to understand what he's saying we would be all for it.

Veeshir   ·  February 7, 2010 12:52 PM

I'd rather have a Republican President with a Democratic Congress. Why? Simple. As long as I have 34 Senators who won't allow my actual removal via impeachment, I have an enormous amount of power: Executive orders, the entire unelected Fourth Branch to write and enforce regulations ( Can and Trade will go through; EPA guarantees it ), even a fair amount of armed might through the military and Federal law enforcement. It is just our good fortune that neither Clinton nor (so far) Obama has been competent enough to use it. When he does, he won't have nearly the leaking and foot-dragging that President Bush faced from the bureaucracy; they're on his side as long as he can give them more ability to run others' lives and empire build.

SDN   ·  February 8, 2010 7:53 AM

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