The Spectacle Blog

Obama and Triangulation

By on 11.30.10 | 1:59PM

Rich Lowry makes the case that Barack Obama will be able to triangulate, contrary to conservative conventional wisdom. The federal employee pay freeze is a good example that Obama will at least try. But the question has never been whether Obama will attempt to do what is in his political interest. The question is whether he'll be able to do so -- in this case, triangulate -- effectively.

Bill Clinton had governed in Arkansas, a relatively conservative state. He had been rebuked by the electorate for lurching too far to the left once before, when he lost a reelection bid to Republican Frank White in 1980. And he had traveled in circles that thought triangulation was the key to Democratic success since at least the 1984 presidential election. Obama does not have the experience, ideology, or temperament for this. He won't be satisfied pushing small-ball initiatives like the pay freeze for the remainder of his term. So far he lacks a big initiative like welfare reform or the capital gains tax cut on which to meet the GOP at least halfway.

A big test will be the extension of the Bush tax cuts, an issue on which Obama clearly does want to find a resolution somewhere between the congressional Republicans and the congressional Democrats. Tapping Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and OMB Director Jack Lew to negotiate the tax cuts gives him a way to bypass those in the Democratic leadership who oppose any extension of the cuts for those making $250,000 and up. We'll see what the administration does with this opportunity to triangulate on an issue much bigger than V-chips.

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