Mr. Obama discussed the pitfalls — and opportunities — of divided government with former President Bill Clinton during a long meeting this month. . . .
Despite all his time studying the Clinton administration, Mr. Obama told his aides that he had no intention of following the precise path of Mr. Clinton, who after the Democratic midterm election defeats of 1994 ordered a clearing of the decks inside the White House, installed competing teams of advisers and employed a centrist policy of triangulation. In fact, several advisers confirmed, the word “triangulation” has been banned by Mr. Obama because he does not believe it accurately describes his approach.
This has the potential to be the most notable linguistic self-deception by a Democratic president since Clinton claimed that oral sex wasn’t really sex. But Sargent, at least, seems willing to buy the administration’s spin:
Triangulation just isn’t Obama’s style, and his scolding of liberals seems to be rooted in genuine frustration with them for disagreeing with him about what’s politically possible, given today’s realities. To whatever degree Obama is using his disagreement with the left for positioning purposes, it’s more about temperament than ideology: His role is that of the voice of sanity trying to talk sense into uncompromising partisans on both sides. This just isn’t Clintonian triangulation in any sense.
Actually, that “voice of sanity” posturing was what Clinton’s version of triangulation was about. For all the symbolic hippie-punching Clinton may have done, he also stood up to the Republican attempt to shut down the government in order to force spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment. In the process, Clinton defined those issues (where public opinion was solidly behind the Democratic/liberal position) as the core difference between him and the GOP, and thereby cemented his re-election in 1996.
Frankly, we would be fortunate if this was the lesson Obama learned from Clinton’s experience. And for those interested in grasping slim reeds of hope, the NYT story does float this possibility:
Mr. Obama intends not only to extend a hand to Republicans but also to begin detaching himself more from Congress and spending more time making his case directly to the American people.
“In a world of divided government, getting things done requires a mix of compromise and confrontation,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “What are the things you can do without Congress? In some cases, that involves executive orders, but it also involves using the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a political argument about the direction of the country.”
Well, golly. If only he’d figured that out before his party lost its clout in Congress!
In the meantime, progressives who feel like Obama has given them nothing but lumps of coal in their stockings all year are hereby informed that the administration has banned the use of that term as well. Please use the phrase “victory nuggets” instead. Merry Christmas!