Commentary Magazine


Can Obama Triangulate?

Bill Kristol is optimistic. On Fox News Sunday, he predicted:

We’re going to have an agreement on extending current tax rates for three or four years, I think. We’re going to have an agreement that we shouldn’t have earmarks. There’ll be an agreement on some spending cuts. There’ll be an agreement on prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

All of this makes perfect sense for Republicans. They will dispel the notion that they are wackos incapable of governing. The positions outlined above are not divisive ones within the Republican Party. Yes, GOP Senate leadership has expressed skepticism about the value of an earmark ban, but if one is proposed, no Republican would be inclined  to vote against it.

As for the Democrats, each of these issues will exacerbate the split between the left and the far left. The same House members who are cheering Nancy Pelosi’s  plan to stay on as minority leader, the netroot activists, and the liberal blogosphere will be in an uproar on spending cuts (we already had a preview when the debt commission released its preliminary report), tax cuts for the “rich,” and a Bush-like commitment to Afghanistan (i.e., the withdrawal of the withdrawal deadline). It’s not going to make Obama’s life easier within his own party; on the contrary, the howls and screeches will get worse.

Does this help Obama, showing how reasonable he is? Well, there will be plenty to show he is not so amenable to the voters’ wishes or the concerns of business. He is, so far, refusing to deal on ObamaCare, a major irritant to independent and conservative voters and a barrier to meaningful deficit-cutting. The danger here is that, as he often does, Obama winds up pleasing no one. His base is increasingly grouchy and dispirited; his adversaries don’t take his promises of fiscal sobriety seriously. But at this point, Obama has no choice — his 2008 coalition has fractured, and he has lost independents. If he does nothing, he’s a one-term president; so he might as well try something else. Unless, of course, he can’t bring himself to break faith with the hard left.

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