Triangulation, Good Politics — Bad For The Country

If I asked you what the worst thing in American politics was today, I would get a variety of answers. Some of you might say “dishonesty”, others recoil from the “negativity” and I’m sure there are plenty of Americans fed up with the “petty partisanship” we’re confronted with at ever turn. But me? I’d point to Dick Morris’ Frankenstein monster, triangulation.

For all intents and purposes, triangulation is the art of trying to be all things to all voters, or at least getting as close as possible. What you want to do is support things that will fire up your base without alienating the voters in the middle. Then when your opponent comes up with an idea that may allow him to pull away some of your support, you don’t fight him, you adopt his idea, whether you agree with it or not. Doing this allows you to pull in the moderates who along with your base which will make it likely that you’ll win at the ballot box. In short, triangulation is political akido that allows you to defeat your opponent by replacing your principles and ideology with polling data.

Now without question, this is brilliant politics and it works. Triangulation is why Bill Clinton, a do-nothing President who couldn’t keep his pants up and got caught lying more times than Pinocchio, spent two terms in the White House and was very popular. Have you wondered why the Republicans won the Senate back in 2002 and will likely control the House, the Senate, & the Presidency after the 2004 elections? Triangulation is at the root of it. Morris & Clinton may have broken new ground with their triangulation strategy, but Rove & Bush seem to be even better at it than their predecessors.

However, while triangulation may produce winners at the ballot box, it doesn’t produce great policy. That’s because the left and the right are driven by very different political philosophies. Not only does each side believe in different solutions to America’s problems, but also the right and left believe the other side’s ideas are actually harmful to America. So when you’re trying to decide between two diametrically opposed sets of beliefs, you oftentimes can’t simply split the difference. It’s like trying to take the ingredients for quiche & angel food cake and mixing them together to make your dinner. When you do that, you’re probably not going to like what you come up with.

For example, anyone who cares about deficits can’t possibly be pleased with the results of triangulation. While it makes sense to increase our defense spending since we’re in the middle of a war on terrorism, responsible government demands we cut spending in other areas, particularly since we’re in an economic slowdown. However, because of triangulation, all restraints on spending have gone by the wayside.

Just look the $400 billion dollar prescription drug benefits we’re about to pass. Here we have an ostensibly Conservative President fully behind a big government entitlement program of the sort you’d expect FDR or Lyndon Johnson to propose. Don’t look for resistance to this monstrosity in Congress either. In fact, the debate in Congress is not about whether this $400 billion dollar budget buster should become law or not, but about whether it should be even bigger. The most infuriating thing of all is that there is no great hue and cry for this bill. As a matter of fact, the GOP could easily defeat the prescription drug benefit and defend themselves at the ballot box in 2004 quite handily by playing up their concern about the deficit. So in essence, the GOP is willing throw their principles out the windows and sign on to this legislation all so they can take an issue away from the Democrats in 2004 and give themselves a relatively minor edge at the polls.

With politicos on both sides making those sorts of decisions, it’s understandable that Americans have become cynical about politics. When you hear people talking about “Republicrats”, “Demlicans” and saying, “both parties are the same”, triangulation is a large part of that. That’s because at its heart, triangulation is about politicians selling out their principles to stay in power, not doing the right thing for our country.

Politicians poo-poo this sort of talk, especially when it comes from pundits. After all, it’s easily to be ideologically pure when you don’t run for office. Furthermore, the reasoning goes, ‘isn’t it better to make a few compromises and stay in office, rather than let the other side take my seat?’ The American people can live with compromises, but can we live with mercenary politicians who’re willing to throw everything they believe in out the window as long as the wind seems to be blowing the right way when they lick their finger and stick it up in the air? Getting elected to office shouldn’t simply be about staying in power, it should be about helping your country by getting your agenda implemented. If we don’t have politicians, particularly Conservative politicians, who are willing to risk being voted out of office to do the right thing for our country, I fear for the future

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