Lessons in Triangulation: Obama Meeting With Clinton Today

By Chris Good

President Obama will meet with his most recent Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, at the White House today at 3 p.m., during a particularly Clintonian moment in Obama's presidency. Republicans just took the House in a national wave election, promising reforms and a new style of government, and Obama has angered Democrats by assenting to GOP tax demands in a centrist-sounding deal to extend the Bush-era cuts.

Echoes of 1994 and Clintonian "triangulation" have ricocheted all week, with gathering volume, off the broad rectangular surfaces of DC's federal structures.

Hotline OnCall's Jeremy Jacobs asked some pertinent questions about the meaning of this meeting in today's "Starting Lineup":

Pres. Obama will meet with Pres. Clinton in the Oval office Friday afternoon -- a meeting that will undoubtedly spur plenty of speculation that Obama is searching for new political strategies coming off this year's midterm losses and looking ahead to stronger Republican congressional caucuses next year.

The meeting raises more questions than it is likely to answer. For one, is Obama's tax cut compromise his idea of triangulation? And is the meeting a tacit acknowledgment that it hasn't worked, politically, as he would have liked?

Second, can Clinton triangulation -- pivoting to popular issues that can draw bipartisan support -- even work for Obama right now? The most important difference between 1990s and now is the economy; Clinton didn't have to fight a recession that is lasting much longer than the White House would like. Are there "third way" issues out there now that would even work for Obama? Obama has already been pushing for balancing the country's budget for a while.

He's considering an overhaul of the tax code, a proposal suggested by centrist former Clinton adviser William Galston, which could help him court allies in the business community - if he embraces the tax breaks and elimination of loopholes that corporations favor. That's far from guaranteed.

Third, will Clinton advise Obama to shake up his staff? Clinton famously brought in Dick Morris after the Democrats' 1994 midterm losses. While Rahm Emanuel is out as his chief of staff, Obama's inner circle has remained largely unchanged. Would Obama be receptive to a brand new voice telling him to do things differently in the West Wing?

Oh, to be a fly on the Oval Office Wall...

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/12/lessons-in-triangulation-obama-meeting-with-clinton-today/67829/