The word the president doesn’t want to hear

THE WORD THE PRESIDENT DOESN’T WANT TO HEAR…. For all the recent speculation about the White House and “triangulation,” President Obama has given some instructions to his staff: don’t even say the word.

Despite all his time studying the Clinton administration, Mr. Obama told his aides that he had no intention of following the precise path of Mr. Clinton, who after the Democratic midterm election defeats of 1994 ordered a clearing of the decks inside the White House, installed competing teams of advisers and employed a centrist policy of triangulation. In fact, several advisers confirmed, the word “triangulation” has been banned by Mr. Obama because he does not believe it accurately describes his approach.

Since it doesn’t apply, that’s a good idea. As Greg Sargent explained this morning, “Triangulation just isn’t Obama’s style, and his scolding of liberals seems to be rooted in genuine frustration with them for disagreeing with him about what’s politically possible, given today’s realities. To whatever degree Obama is using his disagreement with the left for positioning purposes, it’s more about temperament than ideology.”

I agree wholeheartedly. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, what we’re seeing from Obama and his team really bears no resemblance to the Clintonian model in the wake of 1994 midterms.

The Dick Morris approach was fairly specific — Clinton had to put distance between his White House and the left. When liberals criticized him, Clinton and his team found this valuable, because it allowed them to exploit liberal rebukes to help Clinton appeal to moderates and “independents.”

What we’re seeing now appears to be largely the opposite. Obama doesn’t welcome liberal attacks; he’s frustrated by them. Obama isn’t going out of his way to say he disagrees with liberals; he’s making an effort to say he agrees with liberals, but feels the need to make concessions to move his agenda forward. Right or wrong, the president wants the left’s support, and thinks he’s earned it.

Much of the left disagrees, obviously, but the larger point is that this bears absolutely no resemblance to Dick Morris’ advice in the mid ’90s. In a triangulation model, the leader tells the public, “Those folks and I aren’t on the same page.” In Obama’s model, the president is telling the public, “Those folks and I should be on the same page.”

The fact that Obama has banned the word altogether is a good sign about his future intentions.