The Next Two Years Can Be Productive!

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In a New York magazine profile this summer, David Brooks said he was "more pessimistic now than ever in [his] life." Deeply troubled by the ballooning deficit, increased polarization and rampant mistrust of government--he said he couldn't see a way out of the current political gridlock. For the most part, others couldn't either. Then the midterms came, ushering in a divided Congress. The outlook for a productive lame duck session became even less likely.

Did Brooks get even more depressed?

It seems not. Today, in a distinctly upbeat column, he sketches a road map for the president's next two years. He thinks the lame duck session can be productive if Obama offers irresistible incentives for both parties:

The general approach should be to offer the left something it really craves. Then offer the right something it really craves. Then, once you get them watering at the mouth, tell them they're going to have to bend on the things they don't care about in order to get the things they do.

To get the left excited, Obama might offer an activist growth agenda. This would involve spending more on infrastructure, research and job training--the basic things he has always talked about. But it also would mean going further and embracing industrial policy. ... To get the right excited, he needs to offer fundamental welfare state reform. ... Paul Ryan, a Republican, and Alice Rivlin, a Democrat, have come up with a Medicare reform plan in which new enrollees would receive a fixed contribution from the government, growing a bit faster than inflation. They would apply that money against the cost of health insurance. This would make Medicare a defined contribution program and save hundreds of billions.

Brooks thinks Republicans would be so smitten with welfare reform, they'd be willing to swallow votes for Democratic objectives (and vice versa). Whether such a strategy would work is impossible to say. Regardless, it's an interesting alternative to President Clinton's post-'94 election strategy. "This is the opposite of triangulation," Brooks writes. "Instead of finding small compromises in the middle, it marries big ideas on the left and right. In a polarized country, it may be easier to push through big change by marrying the left and the right than by relying upon an unfortunately weak vital center."

What do you think? Could "counter-triangulation" work?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.