Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 11, 2010

TRIANGULATION.... At a press conference earlier this week, President Obama offered a rather passionate defense of compromise and incremental progress to his critics on the left, which, not surprisingly, was not well received by his critics on the left.

Politico's Ben Smith initially called the president's comments a "clear" example of "triangulation." A day later, Ben walked this back a bit.

A White House official e-mailed yesterday to dispute my labeling President Obama's rebuke to liberal critics yesterday "triangulation."

Obama, the official noted, was "responding to several very loud voices from the left." Triangulation, by contrast, "is an intentional political strategy to win favor with swing voters by pushing off the left. That's not what the President is doing, and that's not our strategy."

The official has a point: Obama is not, as were Dick Morris and Bill Clinton when the term was coined, scanning the headlines for over-the-top liberals on whom to launch unprovoked presidential surprise attacks, a la Sister Souljah.

This led to quite a few interesting items about the president's approach and whether it's triangulation or not. I thought I'd add my two cents, too.

Part of the problem is that there is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a triangulation strategy. Jonathan Bernstein offered a reasonable argument that the word itself is just a consultant-driven "advertising slogan." Bernstein added, "That's what those sort of people -- Dick Morris, Karl Rove, James Carville -- do; they make up fancy slogans or theories or whatever as a way of claiming that their mysterious voodoo is irreplaceable."

Perhaps, but I tend to think there's an actual political strategy lurking just below the hype on the surface. Triangulation is, to my mind, an above-the-fray, third-way tack on steroids -- present the public with disdain for two unpopular teams (congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans), and position yourself as being superior to both, by criticizing both.

The Clinton/Morris approach wasn't just consultant smoke and mirrors -- the then-president really did put distance between his White House and the left as part of a deliberate strategy. When liberals criticized him, Clinton and his team found this valuable, because it allowed them to exploit liberal rebukes to help Clinton appeal to moderates and "independents."

Not surprisingly, opinions vary widely on the point, but this appears to have no resemblance to what Obama is doing now, even with his angry remarks on Tuesday. In fact, I think it's largely the opposite on triangulation.

Obama doesn't welcome liberal attacks; he's frustrated by them. Obama isn't going out of his way to say he disagrees with liberals; he's making an effort to say he agrees with liberals, but feels the need to make concessions to move his agenda forward. Right or wrong, the president wants the left's support, and thinks he's earned it.

Much of the left disagrees, obviously, but the larger point is that this bears absolutely no resemblance to Dick Morris' advice in the mid '90s. In a triangulation model, the leader tells the public, "Those folks and I aren't on the same page." In Obama's model, the president is telling the public, "Those folks and I should be on the same page."

Even in the tax deal with congressional Republicans, note that the president isn't even trying to suggest he likes the concessions. It's not as if the White House is pitching the notion that the agreement "incorporates the best ideas from both parties." On the contrary, the president and his team continue to express their disdain for the elements they dislike -- considering them a necessary evil after being forced to negotiate with hostage takers. Some Dems don't believe him, but Obama has even vowed to make sure these cuts for the rich expire in two years.

Maybe they got a good deal; maybe not. Maybe the concessions the White House won are enough; maybe not. Either way, there are plenty of words available to describe this week's efforts, but triangulation shouldn't be one of them.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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Excellent post. Thanks.

Posted by: TR on December 11, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Good point. If anything some opportunists on the left (I am looking at you Keith Olbermann) are willing to fight to the last unemployed American to gain advantage from the compromise.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 11, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

A bunch of right wingers are sitting around giggling right now @ the Democratic party infighting. They probably are digging through Clinton's Presidency right now finding every thing he did to piss off the base and every so often drum up the faux controversy on Fox and the talk shows and sit back and laugh.

Posted by: mikefromArlington on December 11, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

As usual, this site has the best comments on the situation.

Posted by: Mary C on December 11, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is not triangulating. Hillary and Bill were the masters of triangulation. They would get the press to float their ideas and two weeks later when the public opinion polls came back, Hillary and Bill would come out and say,"This is what I really think we should do."
Obama right now is just trying to apply some generous doses of lipstick to a pig and tell us that it's not a pig. He just can't keep the pig from making the oink sound and shitting all over the middle class. Tax cuts, one of three Americans will actually have to pay more. Oink.

Posted by: tko on December 11, 2010 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

The issue is not whether or not Obama was "triangulating."

The issues are whether he cut a good deal, whether it's his doing that got us in the position we are in and the implications for the future.

Posted by: foosion on December 11, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone care what they call it?

Posted by: leo on December 11, 2010 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I am with leo -- who gives a darn what it's called. Nice spin, though.

Posted by: CT Voter on December 11, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

It's not triangulation - you're right about that.

It's a complete CAVE to the opposition because the stimulus was too small. Larry and The Geitner totally set this one up by refusing to adequately address the initial problem.

O's problem is he's a corporatist parading as a pragmatist. Sooner or later, the curtain is pulled back.

Posted by: Phil in Denver on December 11, 2010 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers is correct. As much as many of us abhor this compromise, most of us are not in the position of losing unemployment benefits. Clinton is correct in saying, in effect, "If you don't like this deal, just wait for the nothingness which will come out of the winning side, next year."

So, we swallow the bile, bite the bullet and regroup to fight another day. We can grouse about whose fault caused this late compromise, but, we are in no position to gain anything more and many of our unemployed will be hurt severely.

Posted by: berttheclock on December 11, 2010 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

So Obama hands over the treasury to the Republicans which infuriates his base, so Obama scolds his base, which makes us just angrier. Now you tell me that Obama can't even score political points with independents via triangulation?

Well, that's just great. The man's a genius.

Posted by: PTate in MN on December 11, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

A cave by any other name ...

Posted by: fradiavolo on December 11, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

What Obama doesn't understand or acknowledge is the way the Democrats are being set up to accept cuts to social security, medicare, and the affordable health care act funding to deal with the deficit that this deal is increasing substantially. As for the promise to have the cuts expire in 2012, promise them anything . . .

Posted by: JackD on December 11, 2010 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Typical media response: Lets argue about what it's called, not about the substance. WHO GIVES A DAMN WHAT IT'S CALLED!

What really needs to be explained is how Obama will be in a stronger position two years from now, in the throes of another 'presidential election' campaign and after two more years of Rethug control of Congress. (Yes, I know the fossilized Senate still has more Dims than Rethugs, but how does that matter?)

The Rethugs know what they want, and they're getting it. The Dims think they know what they want, but they don't, and in any case have no effective way of communicating what they want in the unlikely event they do figure it out.

We've been set up for more wealth disparity, and fewer services to those who need them the most. Third World status is on our doorstep, and our president thinks he's making progress. That must be the hope and change he foresees if he's half as bright as he's cracked up to be.

Posted by: rrk1 on December 11, 2010 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

What I want to know is, why is Chris Van Hollen leaning no on the tax cut compromise? Did not he help negotiate it? Wsn't he on the team with Max Baucus and Geithner.


Posted by: pol on December 11, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, it is called mendacity- Lying about what your goals really are. Obama's strategy from day #1 has been to say all the right things so that Democrats vote for him and then turn around and do his best to keep the vested interests (in particular, the Wall Street bubble machine) happy. While the village (because they are his definition of the corporate "center" of this country) wants to put a happy face on this cynical strategy that Obama (and most of the Senate Democrats) use by calling it a "move to the center", the fact is that this president is not a progressive reformer and has no desire to do anything that upsets the big money status quo.

Maybe the guy has internalized the constant drumbeat from the right that he is a socialist/communist/fascist Muslim and actually believes that his center-right beliefs are "the left", but I doubt it. I think the evidence is pretty clear that he knew he was running a scam on the American people from day #1 and is starting to figure out that it isn't going well but doesn't know what to do besides double down on the scam.

Posted by: spiny on December 11, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of words about words - signifying nothing. The simple facts are these - Obama sold out liberals by extending tax cuts for people who never needed them in the first place, to get a tiny bit of help for people who are losing their homes and starving. Some hero. I prefer my heroes to be genuine and actually care about people who are suffering, like Bernie Sanders. I intend to work as hard as I can to ensure Barack Obama never holds public office again!

Posted by: Sam Simple on December 11, 2010 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

What it is, is pragmatism, which is where the great independent center lives, who are the folks whose votes you have to have to recapture the White House in 2012.

Posted by: John on December 11, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

It is really sickening to hear my own party turn as dumb as republicans and their no compromise teaparty stand.And you feed off other posters, some i am very sure are republicans feeding you this frenzy and laughing every sentence.CAVE, utter bullshit, it's the best that can be pulled out of a situation which has spun waaaaaaaay out of control.And screaming and crying and pulling out your hair, is not going to make it any better.I am really disappointed in the liberal wing of democrats.
All this fear mongering about everything that isn't even something to be worried about , all for political leverage, that sounds so familiar in all the wrong places.Sanders did a wonderful job, but notice, he most likely will vote for the package in the end.Why,. . . even he can see that if we do nothing, we are in for even a worse go around with the republican controlled house. Where are all our incentives going to be then ...

Posted by: Michael on December 11, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Attacking criticism by elements that supported his election is just a defensive reaction from an Administration that made a number of early mistakes in dealing with a number of issues and now finds its back against the wall. They attacked gay people who were apprehensive about the way gay issues and concerns were being mishandled and/or ignored by saying the critics lacked the sophistication to understand what was going on. They used this same technique against the "Left." Boy, is that a 1950s Republican term. Although I agree that, after he got himself into this predicament, the President did what needed to be done on the tax issue, he is still responsible for the errors that got him into that position. Attacking the critics doesn't change that failure. Sanctimonious is probably a better description of the President's comments that it is of his critics (except for Nader, of course).

Posted by: Temple Houston on December 11, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

berttheclock: "...most of us are not in the position of losing unemployment benefits."

So we're spose to trade poor people's unemployment insurance for billionaires' tax cuts and be told to come and fight another day?

That's borderline indecent. I say, make it just about UI, period -- in a separate bill.

Posted by: leo on December 11, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

leo "So we're spose to trade poor people's unemployment insurance for billionaires' tax cuts and be told to come and fight another day?"

Amen, brother. I want to scream when people tell me that the Obama deal was necessary because the unemployed are suffering (when the 99'ers aren't even included.) I suspect many of those making that argument see an advantage to themselves in the taxcuts. They are using the unemployed as their cover.

One of the things that has astonished me over the past several years, as the unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high, is that the unemployed have been invisible. Where are the demonstrations? The protests? There are more unemployed in the US than TeaPartiers, and those of us with close relationships to the unemployed/or underemployed would join rallies for jobs. The pool is, what, ~35% of the population.

So let the Republicans screw with unemployment benefits publicly. Let Americans see their priorities clearly.

Posted by: PTate in MN on December 11, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Leo, no , thats not the point, we need unemplyment insurance, NOW, not after the new year, when republicans have the house.The only, ONLY, way to get it across this year, is attached to something the republicans Want.That is why it has to go through this way, at this late hour.If we want to focus on any other priorities, which republicans don't, it needs to go in this one. We don't have time to write a new one and have it go thru both houses with debate.Republicans would never allow it, filibuster and all.We own the senate next year. The filibuster rule can be changed at the beginning of the year, and since we own the senate, to our liking.Possibly all of the stalled appointments and legislation can be enacted on this year, needing only senate approval to pass.

Posted by: Michael on December 11, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Leo, no, that's not the point, we need unemployment insurance, NOW, not after the new year, when republicans have the house.

We don't need unemployment insurance.

We need a cold, hard, small, disciplined, real Democratic party. It's the only thing that will save the country.

Oh, sure, some people will carp, and point out that during this process real people will suffer real pain that could otherwise have been averted. When the historical necessity of their sacrifice is explained to them properly, however, they will come around.

Some day, when real progressives finally take power, we can recognize their sacrifice. A memorial, something tasteful, and not too grandiose on the Mall? Or a commemorative stamp…we could have Banksey do it; think how cool that would be.

Remind me again, when did Lenin die?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 11, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

That's borderline indecent. I say, make it just about UI, period -- in a separate bill.

Then watch the GOP filibuster the bill and UI benefits stop for those that need the extension. Beyond helping those in need in the here and now, this is about not letting the economy dip again so that we can get another bite at the apple in 2012.

I have not heard a single credible alternative that provides for both of these things from any of the naysayers. It strikes me as utterly irrational to think that we'll get a better deal from a GOP lead House of Representatives. They'll have a lot more leverage and even less incentive to deal.

I am quite certain that the voters that elected the GOP back into the majority will not be impressed by Democrats "standing on principle" while the economy slips into a double dip recession. The GOP certainly knows this so they'll come back with an even worse deal for passing less assistance to the jobless and then hang the failure to pass it around the necks of Democrats.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 11, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Whenever I want read the apology for Obama's latest sell out, I know I can find it here. Thanks again, Steve!

Posted by: DevilDog on December 11, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

We need a cold, hard, small, disciplined, real Democratic party. It's the only thing that will save the country.

Oh, I get it. We need a Tea Party! Well, since that name is already in use, I propose that we call it the Pot Party.

Posted by: Ak Liberal on December 11, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Well, since that name is already in use, I propose that we call it the Pot Party.

Quite frankly, noting how ready it is to write off real people in real distress as collateral damage in the cause of a better future, a more perfect Party, and the progressive millenium, I was thinking more like "Bolshevik".

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 11, 2010 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I was thinking more like "Bolshevik".

Yeah, I get it. I need to turn up the gain on my progressive outrage meter. Lately, it's been pegged.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 11, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Not buying it. Because it rewrites history.

"Obama isn't going out of his way to say he disagrees with liberals; he's making an effort to say he agrees with liberals,"

Which is why his very first meeting with a Congressional caucus was with the Blue Dogs in Feb 2009, after which he was reported to have agreed in principle to consider Cooper-Wolf SAFE (the House version of Conrad-Gregg and the actual pattern on which Catfood Comm was modelled). Even as he left the CPC and the CBC to cool their heels for weeks.

Which is why one of his first acts was to announce a Fiscal Responsibility Summit along lines suggested by Pete G Peterson and originally designed to be keynoted, moderated, and staffed by PGP in the interest of pushing a BRAC style Commission to reform entitlements. i.e. Cooper-Wolf again. (Pelosi had to step in an put a kibosh on the PGP keynote/moderation piece).

Which is why Obama allowed Summers to exclude the Romers $1.2 trillion stimulus package from even being considered and immediately rejected even the House $900 some billion package in favor of a $797 billion package deliberately targetted at being under a totally arbitrary $800 bn limit and then pre-compromised in the directions of tax relief rather than infrastructure spending that might have you know begun to serve the liberal economic and social agenda.

Which is why after the House Tri-Committee and Senate HELP produced HCR bills perfectly in line with his campaign promises by the end of July and so in time for his August deadline, he allowed Reid to allow Baucus to scrap every bit of Kennedy-Dodd and start over on a basis that excluded ALL SFC PROGRESSIVES. Including the fricking Chairman of the SFC Health Care Sub-Committee.

All of this in the first six months even as those two 'temporary' combat brigades to Afghanistan turned into 100,000 for two years, and then more for I guess forever.

If Obama agrees with liberals why did he let his Administration to openly operate on the principle "Every Day is Punch a Hippy Day"? Is there a single major initiative where he allowed negotiations to START from the liberal position?

Obama had some choices in Feb 2009. He could have called in the CPC and CBC and thanked him for their work in getting him elected and warned them that progress would require some unfortunate compromises with Blue Dogs and Republicans to get things done, but that he would consult them and their leadership every step of the way. Or he could have called the Blue Dogs in, essentially agreed that those liberals were out of control, but told the Dogs "Hey, they don't have anywhere else to go, what are they going to do?". Which is what he did.

When Obama individually called out Dingell and Kennedy and the State of the Union and congratulated them for their decades of work on Health Care I never dreamed that only six months later he would let a Conservadem Senator unilaterally throw their entire work product in the trash. Maybe if he wanted liberal support he shouldn't have spat in the face of a dying Senator Ted Kennedy. Ya think?

Posted by: Bruce Webb on December 11, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I think we tend to OVERTHINK all of this. I think the President was genuinely pissed off. He has been attacked from both sides. 'Caving' 'Selling out', etc. etc. Please. He is the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. The liberals don't OWN him but have tended to attack him if he is not doing EVERYTHING they want. I believe they are pissed off about the previous 8 years when liberals were REALLY in the wilderness and thought Obama would be the Left's Bush. Didn't happen, won't happen and you SHOULD have seen it in the run up. I have always thought I was an independent and went towards the left when Bushco was in control but what the Left is doing now is pushing me right back. This DOESN'T make me wishy washy, it makes me have differing opinions on differing policies.

Posted by: SYSPROG on December 11, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I agree. This isn't triangulation. This is capitulation.

Obama is weak, conflict-averse, and pathetic. If he had a strategy, I'd have respect from him.

Sadly, because Obama is so conflict-averse, the only chance of reaching him is for liberals to become even more critical of Obama than Republicans are. Only when Obama perceives greater pain and criticism from defying liberals than from defying Republicans will he start giving liberals what they want. Not what I would call an ideal political dynamic, but that's where we are.

Posted by: square1 on December 11, 2010 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

"The liberals don't OWN him but have tended to attack him if he is not doing EVERYTHING they want.

Correction, that would be 'NOTHING they want'.

You've got GOPers holding the equivalent of a fiscal gun to the head of our unemployed and Sheriff Obama saying, 'sure, go and take the loot -- and come back soon!!!'

Posted by: leo on December 11, 2010 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Correction, that would be 'NOTHING they want'.

Yep. Nothing here for progressives. Of course when we win big, you count it as a loss.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 11, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Yep. Nothing here for progressives."

Can we stay on topic, please? We're not talking about "Provided stimulus funding to boost private sector spaceflight programs" -- though I'm sure that might convince some liberals to vote for the tax proposal. I'm just not quite sure how many.

Posted by: leo on December 11, 2010 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

This plan is another stage in the GOP "Death by a Thousand Cuts" plan to eviscerate social programs.

The "pragmatists" scold us for being "sanctimonius purists" and claim we "have no solution." But when the 13 months are up (with 7 left on the tax breaks. go figure), conservatives will be sending the same ransom note, verbatim. And what's the solution, then? Will the people be up in arms and ready to take them on? I doubt, because nothing will have changed, other than the rich are even richer and the country is an even deeper debt hole.

The plan avoids the inevitable pain and kicks the can down the road. Keeping a little extra money in our pockets (take your tax break and divide it by your payroll period) is not going to lead to significant job creation. Creating jobs through public works and other direct job programs will, but that's going to take tax revenues, like the kind we'de get if we just let the bullshit, supply-side tax cuts expire.

Extending these tax cuts buys into the supply-side dogma lock, stock and barrel. That says a lot about the Democratic Party today.

My solution: Let the cuts expire, let the GOP unilaterally reject unemployment benefits, and then TURN UP THE HEAT. Aggressively lay out our own plan for offering jobs to repair the infrastructure and other deferred maintenance while providing incentives towards development of new, green industries.

The unemployed don't want a check, THEY WANT A JOB. When enough constituents start getting in the faces of moderate conservatives, they will start singing a different tune. Until large segments of the population start becoming active, no real change is going to occur.

Posted by: bdop4 on December 11, 2010 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

It has been obvious from day one that the President is not only steeped in (via upbringing), but works to put into practice, the Hawaiian concept of pono.

Until his opponents and detractors on the left, right and in the muddled middle understand this, and what it entails, all attempts at analysis, explanation or derision of the Obama policy methodology fall short of reality.

Posted by: NotMax on December 11, 2010 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not going to argue the semantics of what Obama's tax-cut deal with the GOP.

I'll jusy say that I think it's shabby, kneejerk policy development that does nothing to address immediate concerns over currently stagnant economic conditions, while simultaneously exacerbating a long-term deficit problem. It's also very timid politics that reveals our president as a disingenuous invertebrate.

Posted by: Out & About in The Castro on December 11, 2010 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK
NotMax: "It has been obvious from day one that the President is not only steeped in (via upbringing), but works to put into practice, the Hawaiian concept of pono."

I believe that you're talking about the concept of ho'oponopono, which is bringing all parties to the table to talk things out peacefully, letting everyone have their say, with the idea of coming to eventual agreement upon a solution.

To make things pono is to make them right, i.e., correct a mistake, to bring things back into harmonious balance.

Either way, I nevertheless fail to see anything of the sort in this week's events.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 11, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Can we stay on topic, please?

I suggest that you reread SYSPROG's comment in light of your response.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 11, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

"...On the contrary, the president and his team continue to express their disdain for the elements they dislike -- considering them a necessary evil after being forced to negotiate with hostage takers. Some Dems don't believe him, but Obama has even vowed to make sure these cuts for the rich expire in two years..."-Benen

This is exactly the point which is overlooked by many liberal critics. Obama hates the whole idea of being blackmailed into allowing the Bush tax cuts to go forward but has stated over and over again that preventing the suffering of Americans is more important to him than doing so.

Obama is motivated by care concern and sympathy for Americans suffering these republican caused hardships and hates them being used as bargaining chips by the right. Extending unemployment benefits should have nothing to do with the Bush tax cut issue but this is what he has to deal with.

Obama cannot see that we know this and still refuse this deal because if we do not stop them now it will never end. The right's demands will become even more harmful to the middle class and poor. If not now...then when do we say enough is enough with these hostage takers. We the people must help each other through this attempted take over by this plutocracy and their owned members of congress. It's only going to get worse and more difficult to stand up against. The time is NOW.

Posted by: bjobotts on December 11, 2010 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

"A bunch of right wingers are sitting around giggling right now @ the Democratic party infighting. They probably are digging through Clinton's Presidency right now finding every thing he did to piss off the base and every so often drum up the faux controversy on Fox and the talk shows and sit back and laugh.
Posted by: mikefromArlington on December 11, 2010 at 11:45 AM |"

The same thing is happening on the right who are saying "My god, the crazies have taken over our party" as the polls show they disagree almost as much as the dems over what repub leaders are doing. But you'll never see that on FOX but the polls are clearly revealing it.

Posted by: bjobotts on December 11, 2010 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

John Judis noted earlier this year

I pledged $50 for the Monthly's pledge drive, minus ten dollars every time you made a link to The New Racist. I hate it when my own worst fears prove so true, and even though I knew I would win that bet, I and all your readers are all poorer for your links to the racists at TNR.

Posted by: some guy on December 11, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

"I suggest that you reread SYSPROG's comment in light of your response."

I suggest that there's NOTHING in the bill we're currently talking about that liberals want. That's why it's so important to oppose it.

This constant need to drag in previous legislation that for all I know everyone here supported 100% is kind of OT.

Posted by: leo on December 11, 2010 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

I misread the first part of this post, and then had to run on a task for a minute. What I mistook is moot, but my immediate acceptance and continued embrace of something that would have had them being very stupid to say signals a great change from someone who, not so long ago, was "in the tank."

Posted by: Hazy on December 11, 2010 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't matter what you call it. Trading long-term pain for short-term relief is piss-poor strategy and a just plain bad idea. It may not be "triangulation," but it's also not "pragmatism."

Posted by: FreakyBeaky on December 11, 2010 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Leo, for goodness sake, SYSPROG made a comment about Obama bashing in general.

SYSPROG: The liberals don't OWN him but have tended to attack him if he is not doing EVERYTHING they want.

Leo: Correction, that would be 'NOTHING they want'.

Perhaps you did intend to communicate what you wrote, but I'm no mind reader. I have nothing more to say on the matter as I believe that we have exhausted the topic.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 11, 2010 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

I like Ben Smith, but calling this "triangulation" is just wrong. It's either betrayal or incompetence.

Posted by: calling all toasters on December 11, 2010 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

I see the "base" is still up in arms over things that haven't happened yet.
Honestly, I've haven't seen such a lack of contact with reality since I accidently flipped onto Fox News. Sure, every "victory" for the Republicans means another nail in the coffin of American democracy. After all, it's a conpiracy to turn the clock back to 1890, isn't it? Or maybe it's just the local weed?
Do you folks even bother to LISTEN to yourselves? Whether or not millions of your fellow citizens have food or shelter apparently doesn't matter; only sticking it to "the Republicans"! Really showing your progressive values, there guys.
Until we elect enough Democrats who actually run on and support the values of the Democratic Party, what's happening now will continue to happen. You pass laws with the legislators you have, not the ones you WISH you had. It's as simple as that.
Screaming "traitor" and "cave" may make you feel all politically knowledgeable, but it doesn't get ANYTHING passed in Congress. Whether or not you support Mr. Obama during the next election doesn't matter to me a bit, but you'd damn well better be out there doing all you can to get a real Democratic majority elected - to BOTH Houses of Congress!
However, if you really want to jump on someone for what's happening on Capitol Hill, may I suggest the Blue Dogs who were afraid to pass this BEFORE the election? Or the members of the Senate Democratic caucus who followed suit. They're the ones to blame for this mess, but amazingly enough, I haven't heard one word about THEM! Why is that? THEY are the ones, especially the Blue Dogs, responsible for writing financial legislation. It's in the Constitution, I believe.
I thought Davis X. Machina's snarky post was really good and to the point, but it appears that most posters didn't realize it was snark.
That explains a LOT...

Posted by: Doug on December 11, 2010 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Obama to meet on Wednesday 12/15/10 with 20 corporate executives to improve relations with corporations. I kid you not!

Posted by: impartial on December 11, 2010 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

I hate the extension of the tax cuts, and Bernie got the class-warfare analysis right in his speech. I think that having all the tax cuts expire would be preferable to extending them because they are comparatively small for the nonwealthy who could benefit from some help, and because the compromise enshrines some really bad precedents and trojan horses. Also, yes, the Dems bungled the run-up to the election, and the base was insufficiently supportive and was not thinking long-term, and if either of those had worked out correctly, we would not be in this mess.

Nonetheless, the end to unemployment payments is tragic, and the stimulus effect, though misapplied and highly inefficient, would be helpful. Moreover, I've been thinking about Steve's question the other day regarding "Plan B". Plan A stinks, and Plan B doesn't exist. It seems to me that the R's are immune to any pressure to come back to the table if the tax cuts expire: their vote on 9/11 workers' health care signifies that they simply don't give a crap who suffers if it gets in the way of transferring the nation's wealth to the nation's wealthiest, and no-one is going to punish them for this.

It seems to me that if nothing happens now, the results in the spring with the new House won't be "nothing", but will be even worse. The House will pass even higher permanent income and inheritance tax cuts for the wealthy, and enough Senate Dems will cave, just like enough went along with the original Bush plan. Even if the Senate experiences a miracle and started behaving as if Democrats controlled the place, whatever they pass and whatever the House pass still have to go through conference, which ensures a worse outcome than whatever the Senate might produce on its own. If that doesn't work or Obama threatens a veto, the R's will throw in 6 months of cut-rate unemployment extensions, and at that point Obama would no doubt express considerable regret as he signs it into law so that the unemployed will get at least a bowl or two of gruel every fortnight or so. In contrast, if the compromise passes, shaky Dems will be less easily stampeded into an even worse deal and will probably move on to other issues. With his compromise in hand, Obama might even find the motivation to veto any further Republican excesses with respect to taxes. (I know, and if I had a pony and it could fly......) Anyway, I'm developing a sad and nagging feeling that this hideous excrescence might nonetheless be by far our least bad option.

Posted by: N.Wells on December 11, 2010 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Obama doesn't welcome liberal attacks; he's frustrated by them."

I don't blame him. It seems to me that the left has been his biggest critics. The left has criticized him from day one. He has received absolutely no positive reinforcement from the left at all--none, nada, zero. It seems that the left has forgotten how us "human beings" thrive better when we get positive reinforcement from our friends and family and others. I think the left needs to rethink its criticism of Obama and work harder to see how to "help" him succeed; instead of working with the Republicans to destroy him and his Presidency.

Posted by: Bonnie on December 11, 2010 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

I worry that O believes in compromise more than he believes in liberal or progressive principles. I for one am incredibly grateful that Bernie Sanders stood up for 8 hrs to talk about why this was a bad compromise and how outrageous the Rs are being and how much evidence there is that their ideas are bad for the country. I don't know how many people saw any of it. Excerpts were on MSNBC at least. Perhaps no one else covered it. If there were more people who would speak out so forcefully and clearly, OFTEN, possibly the MSM would begin to cover it better. (Hmm, ok, get real, let's not hold our breath,) Perhaps we need to find/invent other outlets for Bernie and other messages that will work w/ the non-readers, don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts-folks, etc (ring tones with subliminal liberal messages, video games with progressive goals/rewards,comic books with liberal plot lines, whatever). When O wants us to shut up and accept the compromise, and implies there's something wrong w/ us for discussing the content, (w/o Bernie, Krugman and a few others) there is no message to the public about how awful the Rs' ideas are!!!!! I've been a compromiser since kindergarten but sometimes a compromise is not a good solution. (think Soloman) We have to articulate our complaints with the Rs publicly and loudly now to lay the groundwork among the public to oppose Rs next yr when they try yet again to privatize SS, etc (i.e. squeeze the peons dry).Frankly, the commission O created contributes to my unease that he does not share my progressive values and will not fight for them, even tho' he may believe he does and that the compromise was necessary.

Posted by: pea on December 11, 2010 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama + the GOP + Grover Norquist = Triangulation.

The Obama/GOP "compromise" is straight out of Grover Norquist's playbook: tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, meant to shrink government revenues so that public programs and services can be cut to the bone and/or regressive taxes raised, all so that the wealthiest can hold onto or increase their wealth. Fascism. Oligarchy. A Banana Republic created by Banana Republicans, possibly facilitated by a "Democratic" president.

If this Obama/GOP "compromise" gets passed, $5 to $6 trillion will be added to U.S. federal budget deficits over the next ten years, with two-thirds of this amount coming from extending the Bush era tax cuts (with the presumption that the high-end tax cuts will keep being extended) and the other one-third coming from tacked-on tax cuts, including the rich-slanted change in the inheritance tax.

The Bowles/Simpson Deficit Reduction commission, created by President Obama at the urging of Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, just recommended federal budget cuts in public programs and services over the next ten years of only $3 to $4 trillion, falling $2 to $3 trillion short of "filling" the hole blown in the U.S. Treasury by the Obama/GOP "compromise" tax cut package, meaning even more severe cuts in public programs and services or a huge increase in regressive taxes.

Of course, doing this to the federal government doesn't even take into account the "trickle down" impact that this will have on state and local governments across America, even more so than that which has already happened since the 2001/2003 Bush era tax cuts went into effect.

So, why would any sane person want to makes things worse? Oh, right, the Grover Norquist playbook: starve the government of revenue so that public programs and services can be slashed, while engineering a disinformation campaign to fool enough people into believing that this is in their best interests, when it's actually only in the best interests of the wealthiest, the oligarchs, the banksters, the fascists.

Posted by: The Oracle on December 11, 2010 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

Silly Obama, the only way to earn liberal respect is to say what they want to hear, give them the impression that he's "fighting" and then do nothing as long as he's "fighting" of course.

Posted by: Alli on December 11, 2010 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Christmas Shopping Non-Poll

I don't shop often but I am a fairly gregarious sort who finds it easy to strike up conversations with strangers, store clerks, and just about anyone. This weekend I did my Christmas shopping and I have to say I was stunned by how many people I encountered who are feeling devastated by Obama's "tax compromise" and the nasty attack on "liberals" in his press statement about it.

One example -- a 20-something clerk at a photography store -- was typical of about a dozen others today. She's a junior in college, an English major, and the daughter of a retired military man. She says she and her parents worked for Obama, gave money to his campaign, and voted for him with high hopes. "After this so-called compromise," she says, "I don't think I can vote for that man again. I know my parents won't. They are furious."

They all were, she said, very disappointed with the health bill, the Guantanamo non-closure, the "waste of more lives" in Afghanistan, and a bunch of other issues. But she explained what has floored them is "this was the central promise of his campaign - to stop that insane tax break for the wealthy. And, now he blames us for being upset that he broke his word?"

As I say, she isn't alone. Sure, my shopping trip was hardly a scientific poll. But what struck me time and again was how almost everyone I spoke with who were self-identified as Obama voters is p.o.'d about the tax bill because it was such a specific campaign promise.

Obama made the promise and their very clear understanding is Obama flat-out broke that promise. I know, I know. The facts are a lot more nuanced, yadda yadda, yadda. I also know a lot of polls have been saying for some time that Obama has been holding up relatively well with his base.

But I came home tonight convinced that is changing.... and very fast. Blame the media, blame the Republicans, blame bad advice inside the WH. Whatever. This tax thing, rightly or wrongly, is being seen as a betrayal by an awful lot of people who claim that until now they've been cutting a lot of slack for Obama.

Posted by: John B. on December 11, 2010 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

Stepping up the fight in Afghanistan was also one of Obama's promises. The photo-store clerk ought to be happy about that.

Posted by: rachelrachel on December 12, 2010 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Just looks like bad bargaining from here. Myopic, I think is the best description of it. It looks acceptable if you view it in isolation. But when you realize what the consequences are going to be it is frightening.

Look if it happens we are going to have to hold our noses and get behind it and fight like hell to keep it from failing. That means that we will have to oppose the resulting pressure for budget cuts in the next Congress that will threaten to cancel out the stimulative effect of the payroll tax holiday. That means that we have to be prepared for the fight to raise the payroll tax during the election year.

Posted by: SW on December 12, 2010 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

Silly Obama, the only way to earn liberal respect is to say what they want to hear, give them the impression that he's "fighting" and then do nothing as long as he's "fighting" of course.

That's the most ridiculous part about all this: If Obama had held firm for the liberal position and not compromised, and "fought" to get the big stimulus we'd never get, and "fought" to get the public option we couldn't get, and "fought" to kill the tax cuts; he could have stood on his "principles" and not gotten us a damn thing. But because he compromised and gave us some of what we needed, he's a "sell out" who needs to be booted from office and replaced with a Republican who will screw us over at every turn and give progressives a REAL target to hate.

The reality is that most progressives don't actually want change or good policies. They just want a fight. And they'd be much happier getting nothing, just as long as we didn't "sell out."

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on December 12, 2010 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK



Not a kid anymore, but dispirited that even very simple concepts like this are lost to the American Left/Center-Left. (Not to the Right, sadly. They get it, to our great peril.) Cf. "Oi Oi Oi" by the Cockney Rejects,or "Boot Down the Door" by Oi Polloi... or any number of songs or speeches on the theme of 'United we stand, divided we do the other thing.'

The Right gets it. Name a faction and I'll show you a constituency which will absorb insult and abuse endlessly, because they are united in their cause, smashing liberalism. Meanwhile, our factions are too busy smashing each other to even engage our common enemy.

Steve, how to change this? And without turning our party into another apocalyptic ideological cult? (I want to defeat these bastards, not emulate them.) That's the $64,000 question right there.

Posted by: Ben Hosen on December 12, 2010 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Hosen's right.

The conservatives have somehow kept their big party tent together regardless of the fact that the tent poles are broken. It was like the tent fell down, and all it took was the rallying cry of racists, bigots and greedy MoFos to rally enough people together to replace the tentpoles with columns of people...Tea Party People.

You see, the right/ conservatives/ republicans/ whatever name works for them they run on fear. Fear of losing something. It could be something the (believed)they had, something they have or something they may someday get. It keeps them together. They encounter one another and bond with one another based on having lost something.

For instance, the reason why Political Correctness might bug them: they can't tell racist, sexist jokes with anyone and everyone. So, they rant about having lost that, get someone else to agree with them and voila: a coalition of people who say they aren't prejudiced but who so want to be if it gets them a laugh.
And, instead of figuring out all the ways they can be funny, they end up claiming that their First Amendment rights are being trampled.

Yeah. No one laughs at their jokes, they claim victimhood. Bravo.

But, hey, they hang together, in victimhood.

Like someone else noted, the first freaking thing the Democrats need to do is make elected Democrats work and win. I don't mean get elected or re-elected because they are obsessed with that already. I mean once they get into office, make them work for us, all of us, instead of lobbyists, instead of for fundraisers, make them work for us. And, make them win by passing legislation Obama can sign. For God's sake, did you people over look the liberal legislation Obama has signed in the past two years? If the guy can get it, he'll sign it. The thing is, he doesn't get liberal legislation for anything more than the smaller, more focused bills. (Ledbetter)

And, don't twist it into the punishment for not doing this should be them not having a job....that's lame.

By the way: "impartial" wrote that Obama is meeting with "20 corporate executives to improve relations with corporations."

job creation. Don't you think that part of that might be about job creation? Do you really think the thing that he's ignoring the thing which screws him over the most? Do you really think he just wants to improve relations with corporations? He's not Jesse Jackson. He's not rhyming his way to relevance. It's likely about job creation and figuring out where that is at or how it could be stimulated.

(like corporations spending those savings they've made from cutting jobs and actually stimulating demand to those who can and will pay for whatever is made)

Posted by: gus on December 12, 2010 at 6:38 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans win because their base of evangelicals, big business, and national security hawks share a couple of common characteristics. They have a heightened reverence for authority and they value loyalty. For the most part they understand "we hang together, or surely we will hang separately." I would wager that many democrats and a majority of liberals don't value those qualities. There's nothing wrong with that, but it means the party will never have the discipline nor the relentless patience it takes to do what the Republicans have done over the last 40 years. Reagan could say "welfare queen" once and the entire party assured it became part of the lexicon. "Cut and run'' - the same thing and the list goes on. If a Republican president called Democrats "hostage takers" it would be repeated dutifully on every blog, radio show, and tv interview until it stuck. Read the Daily Kos,, every offensive name the Republicans have for the President are repeated there gleefully. I read one comment today that made me sick to my stomach it was so disgusting and personal. I have a long memory, so it's pretty hard to take the personal character assassination of the Pres. from a group of bloggers and commenters who were John Edwards supporters in 07/08. Which proves a point made in an earlier comment. They thought Edwards was a Progressive because he talked like one. Ignore the fact that his voting record defined Blue Dogism. I had some hope for the Dems after 2008, but it was pretty clear early on that Dems are comfortable being independent contractors. Obama never had the votes to get what the liberals wanted, a fact they will never face. He did move the ball down field under some pretty horrific circumstances. If the liberals hold out and the tax cuts expire, the President will own the "largest tax increase in the history of the universe." and if the Democrats think they can survive that, they're free to go for it. In two more weeks there will be no deals left to be made and it's every man for himself in the Democratic party. It'll be interesting to see who survives. The Republicans will take control of the Senate in 2012 no matter what, so I hope Obama survives. He'd be the only one who could stop really bad things from happening. If not, at least the liberals will go back to hating Republican presidents again.. But I guarantee you they will not learn a thing from this. It will probably take 16 to 20 years for the Dems to control both Congress and the White House again and when that happens history will repeat itself. If Romney is pres. in 2013 his caucus will have his back in any and all things. They know how it works.

Posted by: sam on December 12, 2010 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

'Triangulation.' at least with its non-mathematical denotation, is fuzzy, but the essence seems to me to be a strategy which tries to find the position which best advances one's (or one's party's) electoral success. To put it another way, I say it's a strategy not for shifting public opinion, or pols' stances, but of moving oneself to take advantage of pre-existing conditions.

Now, Steve shows that it is possible to describe President Obama's actions as different than President Clinton's were, and imply that this makes the former's actions not triangulation, but the crux here is whether, in the face of countervailing opinion and political winds, the President does all he can to make his own weather, or simply tries to make the best of current conditions. Obviously there is no 'pure' path here, and there will be elements of both strategies in any actions, but this is the lens which I use.

My own opinion—and I am predisposed to be critical of this and similar compromises a la Hon. Sen. Sanders—is that we cannot too harshly contemn the President for getting the most that he can after his party completely melted down in the pre-election period, and showed no fight whatsoever afterward. The executive can only do so much, and while it may be a valid question whether Mr. Obama should have been more in the vanguard pre-election, I have a feeling that he was getting pretty clear signals from Congressional Dems that they would not have his back in any fights. In this situation, one might argue that he should have taken on his own party, and I would be open to such arguments, but who here would expect that from this President, or expect that to result in a better deal in the near term, or re-election in the medium term?

Posted by: jhm on December 12, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK
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