It Takes Three to Triangulate…

Or how not to alienate your progressive base

by JC

In a move branded by Politico as “Triangulation Lite” President Obama took his Clinton-eque charade out of the closet with his announcement about opening up offshore waters to oil drilling:

And the drilling decision also allows the president to distance himself from liberal environmentalists disdained by some pro-drilling, blue-collar voters.

“It’s not a bad thing to show you’re willing to do something that gets liberals angry right after you pass the biggest liberal bill in a generation,” said a Senate Democrat staffer, whose boss opposes the policy.

Couple this with Obama’s embracing of the following: his health care reform was a warmed-over hodge-podge of republican ideas; he has called for new nuclear power plants; his failure to close Guantanamo as promised; continuation of FISA warrantless wiretapping policies; unwillingness to pursue accountability of the Bush administration for its roll role in Iraq and Justice Department politicization, among other things; protection of Wall Street as Main Street continues to struggle; tepid plans for climate change and financial regulation legislation; failure to repeal DADT; strengthening anti-choice policy; and on and on, it is amazing to hear this quote out of the mouth of DNC Chairman Tim Kaine today about feeling ok with the base:

“My sense is that we are [OK with the base],” Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine told the Huffington Post shortly after health care’s passage. “I think we’re okay. There were tough points along the way, very tough issues along the way, because this is an issue that people feel strongly about.”

And when the Administration starts to display hubris like this:

“Top-ranking officials and strategists express confidence that both the president and the party will suffer little long-term blowback by negotiating away specific policy principles cherished by progressive groups. They note that while… [like how] health care reform was defined for months by howling over the sacrifice of a public option for insurance coverage, by the time the bill came to a vote there was near-Democratic unanimity behind its passage”

it is time for progressives to do something different than howl every time the president uses them to triangulate with the right in order to move to the center and appear moderate and pragmatic (“sacrificing the public option.” Huh… nice plan. Set up the left then whack them with the old “don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good” argument). Because as I say in the title, it takes three to triangulate. And you can’t triangulate with a position that refuses to react.

“Near-Democratic unanimity” does not a governing coalition make. Many, many progressives like myself proclaim themselves to be left of that “democratic unanimity” and are not part of the 30% +/- of the populace that self-identify with the Democratic party. Left-wing independents (or affiliated with dozens of fringe political persuasions like Greens, Social democrats, etc.).

And how do I propose that the left-wing react instead? Well, it’s time to bring forth another third party movement based on progressive principles–not progressive politics. Instead of ranting and raving, progressives just need to divert their attention to supporting a politician who is principled and willing to call out Obama from the left for what he has done, and what he is becoming. A politician who is willing to unite those of whom Obama would use as a point of his triangulation.

Howard Dean (“this isn’t health care reform–it’s tepid insurance reform at best”) is one such person who has shown the willingness to criticize the president, and was shut out of the Administration for his progressive beliefs. There may be more. But one thing is for sure. There are millions of disgruntled progressives who are being taken for granted and used by President Obama in his move to create an illusion of a populist center from which to govern.

That’s not change I can believe in. It is time to begin to consolidate on the left and leave the triangulation politics behind.

My reaction to Obama’s announcement that he wants to open up off-shore waters to drilling and build more nukes? I guess I’m not surprised anymore. And it’s not worth getting all blustered up about it and playing the triangulation game. And I’m going to send off a contribution to DFA earmarked for a Dean primary run against Obama, for starters. And I’m still trying to get off of the OFA mailing list–and they continue to spam me. Infuriating.

Then I’m going to look around for a good third party movement on which to start focusing my attention and energies. Anybody else?


  1. Dying uninsured in America: How do parents explain to their children that we tried for 100 years to get universal health care and the bill signed by President Obama on 3/23/10 still leaves 25 million without health insurance.
    Here is an innovative andprogressive proposal that will save the Federal government close to $50 billion per year enough to pay for the public option with only an executive order. Most office space is very expensive yet white collar workers only use it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. This amounts to only 30% efficiency which is completely unacceptable in today’s economic and ecological environmentWe can no longer afford to let all white-collar workers that still have jobs work banker’s hours when we can work two shifts per day in government and private industry and cut our overhead costs in half. This simple paradigm shifts solves three problems: It jumpstarts economy and fights poverty, cuts pollution, reduces budget deficits.

    • Big Swede

      The homeless sleeping on you desk.

      Don’t bother responding, we have a winner.

      • The point is that many of the homeless had jobs just a few months ago.
        If the plan was adopted by private industry, it would cut overhead costs by 50% allowing employers to higher more employees and actually become competitive in the world market. If Henry Ford only had one shift a day in his factories, American families could never afford to own their own vehicles.

  2. It’s interesting to watch. There’s is no fear in the Democratic Party of losing the progressive vote. After all, where else is there to go? You and I both know that when they roll out the old “Yeah, but it could be worse” bell that the pwoggies will come running.

    But third party … unless there is a dynamo behind it like Ross Perot (Bloomberg?), it’s futile, as I well know.

    Palin is a little unstable and unpredictable, so I doubt she’ll be allowed near the nomination, so I suspect we’re looking at Romney. That troubles me, as Mitt’s dad, George, was a man of integrity and high principle. I keep thinking that on some level, Mitt must be his dad’s son, determined not to commit the “gaffes” (saying things that are true) that his Dad did. I know – wishful thinking.

    Anyway, it’s good to hear you talk this way. I know we don’t get along, but I also know in your many writings that you are as troubled as I am by the Republican/Democrat monolithic party.

    It’s takes more than a few to scare the Dems. I saw Nader’s support go from 5% to 2.5% in a couple of days because of a Democrat propaganda offensive. The pulled out all the stops and scared the shit out of people. They have tremendous power over pwoggies. Hard to get them to detach.

  3. problembear

    if the republican party fires steele, embraces palin and goes totally whole hog right wing like the christian coalition has been pushing for all these years, a dynamic will ensue which might split enough centrist republicans off to form their own version of republican party sort of theodore roosevelt like….this may attract enough disenfranchised democrats to become a threat. in any case, i see no push on the horizon for progressive left. a major split of the democrats might occur but it would have to be a very moderate and progressive version of the republican party- strong on defense but tough on monopolies and the wealthy elite.

    that is how i view it anyway as an independent.

  4. Pilot

    I empathize with the feelings of the poster, but we are in desperate straits.

    I have been on the Democratic Central Committee of three different states, chaired and vice-chaired caucuses in them, but often cringe at compromises made to placate the ilks of Baucus.

    I made a foray into the Green Party, but resigned as my state’s representative after getting sick with the circular firing squad brought to that party by the cultist International Socialist Organization. The latter would have made Stalin proud. You would have thought that Dr. Kervorkian was the party chair.

    I think we have to support progressive candidates and let the “moderates” to fend for themselves. And we need to give Obama a hell of a lot more heartburn than we have been so far.

    • JC

      let the “moderates” to fend for themselves

      That’s what I’m suggesting we do with Obama.

      I thought I was supporting a progressive candidate. I was wrong. Well, maybe not. Candidate Obama ran as a progressive. President Obama? Not so much.

  5. Lizard

    progressives should make financial reform their focus now, and they need to define the goals, then outline the consequences. and then, when the democrats try to give progressives another pony show, HOLD FIRM! no waffling backsliding apologetics for why half measures and industry giveaways keep happening.

    the thing that burns most americans is how no one is held accountable in dc. i’ve said this before, but it should be one of the goals: fire geithner. then launch a full investigation of the whole financial system, including the role of rating agencies, like moody’s, who is currently threatening the american economy with a downgrade.

    other goals: ban derivatives and bring back glass-steagall.

    consequences are important. progressives need to ask themselves how they plan on not being taken for granted.

    maybe applying a strict criteria to state candidates could have some sway if you can get a set of goals together enough people can agree with. then STAND FIRM!

    for me, any candidate who considers themselves a democrat has to be able to articulate how damaging the neo-liberal policies of clinton were. failure to understand the continuum between reagan/bush/clinton/bush/obama is a personal deal breaker.

    moments of crisis are moments of opportunity. two years ago we got an unintended peek behind the curtains of the finance sector, and the systemic rot that peek afforded those paying attention were shocking and unbelievable.

    what has happened is the biggest theft the world has ever seen. no where in history has more wealth been transfered in such a short amount of time.

    and both sides just keep taking it, letting the two corporate chutes lead them to their respective pens where they shuffle and angrily moo at each other.

    there are alternatives. we could work together and resist the debtors captivity our system has become.

    or we can stay in our herds and moo as farmer dan injects us with antibiotics and feeds us genetically modified corn. it’s up to us.

  6. You guys just don’t get it….

    Simple truth here – a politicians only job in today’s politics is to get re-elected. Unless you can demonstrate that your third party candidate has even a microbe’s chance in hell, the money (which is what get’s you re-elected) will go to the “Big Two” candidates.

    Instead of trying to form a new third party, figure out how to hold your own parties candidates to a party line. The democrats certainly are failing to do that with Baucus but I see little chance that he will fail to get re-elected. If you can’t do that with your congress critters, you certainly won’t influence the Presidency.

    If you can show your elected official that his re-election depends on meeting your party’s needs, he will tow the line. As I said, a politicians one and only job is to get re-elected.


    • Mark t

      Did you even watch the health care debate? Every single progressive folded under incredible pressure. Thinking that we can somehoe match that pressure is ludicrous. Maybe you’re right that we can’t work outside the party, but the idea that you can get anything done through them is sheer folly.

  7. Mark,

    If that I true (and I don’t believe it is), then our representative system is well and truly broken.

    You seem to be laboring under the impression that “the party” is some nebulous entity that you have no control over. That is complete and utter BS. The party is you – and everyone else that has called themselves Democrats. Can you personally match the financial resources of the special interests and lobby groups? Of course you can’t. What you can do – collectively – is let these congress critters know that they can’t continue to follow the lead of the special interest groups by using the one tool the lobbiests don’t have – your vote.

    Tester was elected over a popular incumbant Senator because of the actions of the voters – not the special interests. They wanted Conman Burns to stay in office. The people that Conman supposedly represented said no.. the people won.

    It is that simple in theory. They win only if you allow them to win.


  8. Exactly my point – these ‘for the people’ guys like Tester folded like cheap tents on health care. What good did it do to elect them? All of the work poured into the electoral system is wasted effort.

    Of all democratic organizing tactics, voting is the most overrated. Remember that your man of the people, Tester, once elected hopped into bed with big timber. Unless you have some parliamentary maneuver to control them outside of elections, you’re not effective.

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