Dick Morris recently wrote a column commending George W. Bush for
employing the strategy of “triangulation” in his effort to get the
Before Morris’ column, I understood triangulation to be a strategy
whereby a politician would play both parties (including his own) against
each other for the sake of his own personal political advantage. The
first instance of this was when Clinton, at Morris’ behest, pitted each
party in Congress against the other in trying to rehabilitate himself in
the aftermath of the 1994 Republican Revolution.
Seen in this light, “triangulation” has a very negative connotation
for the person employing it. Only one placing his personal interests
above that of his party and the nation would adopt this strategy.
Now, Morris is offering an entirely different meaning for the term.
He describes it as “a strategy that moves to a higher place, a third
place, above either of the two parties by adopting the best of each and
discarding the worst.”
This definition is decidedly more positive. There is nothing selfish
involved in a person incorporating the best elements of each party for
the benefit of the people.
The term “triangulation” could arguably fit either definition because
they each involve three components: Democrats (or their policies),
Republicans (or their policies), and the president. With each, the
president figuratively rises above the other two, thus forming the
Though it’s presumptuous of me to engage in semantic quibbling with
the primary linguistic advisor to the Chief Word-Parser, I think Morris
is confusing triangulation with “The Third Way.”
The Third Way has come to stand for a new approach to politics
sweeping Western Europe and the U.S. that ostensibly melds the best
attributes of capitalism and socialism.
Bill Clinton, calling himself a New Democrat, has proudly
Americanized the Third Way through his Democratic Leadership Council. He
purports to believe that neither pure liberalism nor pure conservatism
can solve society’s problems but that a mixture of the two must prevail.
Accordingly, Clinton takes credit for welfare reform and balancing the
But is the Third Way truly grounded in an ideology that blends
elements of both the welfare state and the free market? Or is it merely
a repackaging of socialism to make it more palatable to an unwitting
electorate? Many have argued that it is the latter.
I believe that a strong case can be made that Clinton has grudgingly
embraced Third Way politics as a necessary evil in order to win both of
his presidential elections. When he and his wife were comfortably into
their first term, they revealed their true colors with their full-blown
socialized medicine scheme.
Only after their humiliating repudiation in the 1994 congressional
elections did they revert to their Third Way cover. And even then, as
you may recall, Clinton fought both welfare reform and efforts to
balance the budget with every last ounce of his political capital. But
now that both initiatives are manifestly successful he has taken full
credit for them.
Policy Review’s Tod Lindberg admonishes us not to underestimate the
reality of Third Way politics, positing that it “does indeed look like a
historic shift, not least because it is global in scope.” He seems to be
saying that regardless of the motivations of its adherents, the Third
Way is flourishing here and abroad and must be factored into our
But Lindberg further notes that neither Gore nor Bradley has yet
claimed their logical Democratic heirship to Clinton’s Third Way
approach. It just may not be possible for them to do so and appeal to
their extremist constituencies in the course of the Democratic primary
campaign. We can rest assured that when either captures the nomination,
he will scurry back to the center with lightning speed, pretending he
was always there.
On the Republican side, we can only hope that Dubya is not tantalized
by Dick Morris’ misguided praise. Conservatives, by definition, believe
their philosophy already possesses the ideal combination of precepts and
policies that best promote liberty and prosperity.
Republicans can market their ideas however they want to — and should
try to connect with constituencies usually written off to Democrats. But
they should do so by selling their ideas, not changing them.