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You’ve heard of the term "Triangulation", but do really know what it means? I never completely knew what it meant myself until I read George Stephanopoulos’ book All too human. That’s where I found out there’s more to it than just some fancy way of talking. What it involves is an entire policy procedure. To find out exactly what it means, the best source for its description would be from the man who coined the term himself, Dick Morris.

For a little background: Dick Morris was a man who started out as a Democratic campaign adviser, and then gradually drifted towards working for Republicans. Some of his top clients included Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. (for whom Morris bragged about being behind the infamous "White hands" campaign ad used against Helms Black opponent, Harvey Gantt), Republican Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tx, among others. He first met Bill Clinton when Bill was a State Prosecutor in Arkansas with an eye towards the governor’s office and in need of a campaign adviser. Dick Morris made Bill Clinton the youngest elected governor in history, but two years later without Morris, Bill became also the youngest ex-governor in history. After he was rehired, what Morris did was have Bill make a hard turn to the right and thereby got him reelected governor for term after term until Bill’s run for the White House.

Bill didn’t use Morris for his first White House run, but after the disastrous 1994 elections with the loss of both the House and Senate, the Clintons knew he was in trouble for his 1996 reelection bid, so Hillary talked Bill into bringing Morris back in. They didn’t tell George Stephanopoulos what they had planed and conducted their relationship with Morris in secret. Stephanopoulos had no idea what was going on at first, but was picking up signs that something was happening, such as Clinton’s unexplained change in political philosophy and things such as seeing post-it notes on the President’s desk saying "Charlie called", "Charlie" being Dick’s code name. When Clinton finally did decide to let them meet six months after the 94 election, it was then that Dick explains to George over dinner what his plans for Bill’s reelection were and how "Triangulation" works. I’ll let George explain it from there.

"I’ve been talking to Clinton constantly since the election," Morris continued. As Dick dictated to me what he’d been up drilling into Clinton for six months, he morphed into a political version of the autistic math genius played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. His index finger tapped furiously at a slim pocket computer that stored the polls he called his "prayer book". Weaving that data with bits of policy analysis, political science theory, and historical analogies from England, America, and France, Dick spun out an elaborate "Theory of the Race" – that Clinton would win in 1996 if he "neutralized" the Republicans and "triangulated" the Democrats.

Neutralization required passing big chunks of the Republican agenda: a balanced budget, tax cuts, welfare reform, an end to affirmative action. This would "relieve the frustrations" that got the Republicans elected in 1994 and allow Clinton to "push them to the right" on "popular" issues like gun control and a woman’s right to choose in 1996. Triangulation demanded that Clinton abandon "Democratic class-warfare dogma," rise above his partisan roots, and inhabit the political center "above and between" the two parties, a concept Dick helpfully illustrated by joining his thumbs and forefingers into the shape of a triangle. That meant Clinton had to deliberately distance himself from his Democratic allies, use them as a foil, pick fights with them. Combine these two tactics with a strong foreign policy, a reasonably healthy economy, and public advocacy of issues like school uniforms and curfews that would demonstrate Clinton’s commitment to "values", Dick said, and Clinton would win in 1996.

After hearing Morris out, I was struck by the degree to which Clinton had integrated Dick’s thinking with his own. Repeating Dick’s rhetoric was one thing; what really worried me was the possibility that Clinton would actually act on it. Dick explained his theory in elaborate terms, but it boiled down to a relatively simple proposition: Steal the popular-sounding parts of the Republican platform, sign them into law, and you’ll win. The fact that it would anger Democrats was not a drawback but a plus. The fact that it would contradict Clinton’s past positions and professed beliefs was barely relevant.  Dick made obligatory references to avoiding "flip-flops", but his cardinal rule was to end up on the right side of a "60%" issue. If six out of ten Americans said they were for something, the president had to be for it too. How can Clinton even listen to this guy? He wants us to abandon our promises and piss on our friends. Why don’t we go all the way and switch parties? "Neutralization" sounded like capitulation, and "triangulation" sounded just like a fancy word for betrayal.

Originally posted to William Domingo on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 03:28 PM PDT.


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