There is no doubt that President Barack Obama is on a political roll after scoring big with the passage of an historical healthcare legislation and striking a major deal with the Russians on nuclear arms control. And he is making bold strides on the domestic front with issues ranging from education to jobs and the economy. But I am concerned with the young president's ambition and the strategy that he's employing to win a second term and write his name in the history books things could go badly awry.
He's borrowed a technique that President Bill Clinton used to deal with a hostile Republican base and a growing neoconservative movement that threatened the Democratic Party's liberal approach to both international and domestic policy. Bill Clinton's "third political way" was based on the realities of the political situation on the ground and the difficult climate that resulted during his first term in office when like Obama his popularity plummeted amidst some trying issues.
Facing pressure from right-wing Republicans, constant and unrelenting attacks in the GOP-controlled media, and obstruction in Congress, Clinton used a tactic called political triangulation and turned the tables on the Republicans. Triangulation, a geometry technique now used in politics, is an attempt to position oneself above and between the left and the right political flanks. A Democrat, Clinton insulated himself from Republican attacks by appropriating many of their ideas and domestic platform wedge issues.
Barack Obama is proving to be a more consummate triangulator than Bill Clinton ever was and in his short time in office he's mastered this political art developed to almost near perfection by Clinton. Obama has taken Clinton's art and improved on it. But as Clinton's presidency proved this is a short-term, focused technique that does not do well in the long term. Obama must be aware of the risks inherent in this strategy even as he works to out Republican the Republicans.
Obama has studied the Clinton strategy of triangulation and he's mastered it. In his book "Audacity of Hope" he wrote the following: "It was Bill Clinton who recognized that the categories of conservative and liberal played to Republican advantage and were inadequate to address our problems. Clinton's third way...tapped into the pragmatic, non-ideological attitude of Americans."
Trouble is Clinton's third way did not help either Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry again in 2004. Obama must therefore be careful that his success in co-opting Republican playbook strategies will be problematic in 2012 and beyond because he would have strayed so far away from the Democratic Party's base that finding his way back will be very difficult. Already the right wing is mobilizing and the Republican Party has signaled its intention to go on the negative offensive in a bid to win back the senate and ultimately the White House. My concern is the degree that Obama has embraced political triangulation as a core strategy and the pace with which he's moved to out Republican the Republicans.
Consider the following:
In the first year of the Obama Administration he's continued and embraced many of former President Bush's policies. Guantanamo Bay detention center is still opened, the war in Iraq continues; he's expanded and widened Bush's Afghanistan war, renewed the odious anti-immigrant USA Patriot Act, and continues the controversial domestic surveillance program on Americans via emails and phone calls. Heck, these are Republican policies and issues that have been condemned here and abroad yet embraced with a few cosmetic changes and alterations to be sure by President Barack Obama.
Obama followed the Bush pro-rich stance by bailing out the financial industry with taxpayer money to the tune of billions of dollars while little has trickled down to the people that really need bailing out. This pro-big business, pro-Wall Street, pro-big banks and pro-insurance companies is a triangulation strategy straight out of the Clinton playbook.
And just recently Obama has gone further by proposing to drill for oil in American waters something that was pushed by John McCain and Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign. And for all of the Republican Party's carping about the healthcare bill the insurance companies stand to benefit big time.
The liberal Democrats neither got a public option or a single payer system. What we got is limited healthcare reform that is going to benefit big insurance companies since it will be almost illegal not to have or buy health insurance. The few progressive elements in the new law are over shadowed by the sheer scope of its Republicanization and the fact that without the public option (that Republicans and the insurance lobby fought so hard to defeat) there are too many loopholes and potential for abuse of the system by the same people who screwed it up in the first place.
Like the humungous bail out package of banks and financial houses deemed too big to fail out Republicaning the Republicans is a very risky strategy indeed. The president now risks alienating his core base of support and frustrating liberal Democrats who supported him and are peeved about the way that he's going. This tactic is already angering the left in the Democratic Party who see the Obama tactics as borderline treachery.
President Obama must be reminded that it was the Democratic Party's Left column and its liberal base that bolted from Clinton's triangulation strategies that caused Al Gore to pay a steep political price. By voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 they ensured that George W. Bush was able to pinch the Florida vote and the presidency in the process.
Clinton for all his staying star power and charismatic personality will be remembered for NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO), Republican type welfare reform and the gift of gab and spin.
Today, the WTO is one of the members of the ruling neo-colonialist trio the other two being the World Bank and IMF that have visited untold hardships on the Third World. Funny thing these are all strong Republican platforms and initiatives. Let us hope that President Barack Obama will not be remembered for George Bush's wars and Republican issues. The thing is that many of the policies that Obama now champions originated in the lower deep recesses of the far right of the Republican Party and herein lays the danger for Obama and his legacy.