Triangulation returns

Salena Zito

11/11/2007 12:00:22 AM - Salena Zito

Clintonese, Clinton-speak and Clintonesque.

Three words that describe the art of political triangulation are back in the American lexicon, thanks to Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy.

"Triangulation," the brainchild of former Clinton strategist Dick Morris for Clinton-Gore '96, is a pejorative to some; it's double-talk, parsing and waffling at its worst. But for others, such as Democrat strategist Steve McMahon, that reputation is undeserved.

“What it really does is recognize that, in order to get things done, you have to sometimes satisfy competing factions,” he says.

So what is triangulation?

Not "splitting the difference," insists Morris. Rather, it's a strategy “to combine the best of the right and the best of the left and to merge them into a third alternative.”

Nonetheless, triangulation can still hurt the intelligent voter’s brain.

Take the issue of allowing illegal aliens to have driver's licenses. During the Democrats' last debate, no one was clear where Hillary Clinton stood. She gave a non-answer.

In a later interview with CNN, ostensibly to clear things up, Mrs. Clinton blamed the Bush administration for failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Reform certainly is one of the major issues of the 2008 presidential race. Should she win her party's nomination, will Hillary continue to blame Bush when she goes head to head with the Republican nominee? Or will she, finally, take a stand?

“That is the great unknown,” says Arnie Arnesen, a political commentator and former Democrat candidate for New Hampshire governor. “Clinton has never been in a position in a general election where her ability to triangulate has been tested."

But Arnesen finds it "absolutely scary that Democrats are so easily seduced by Clinton, the same way Republicans were so easily seduced by George Bush." She finds it amazing that Democrats now appear to be making the same mistake the GOP did in 2000.

And then there's this: “Everybody remembers triangulation but nobody remembers history," Arnesen says. "Bill Clinton won twice but he never won with the majority of the votes.” Both times it was victory by plurality.

Oddly, in the end, that is what Hillary Clinton is counting on, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “She knows that she’ll never be loved by the voters but a vote cast limply counts just as much as a vote cast enthusiastically.”

A “see-nothing, hear-nothing, say-nothing” strategy can work, Sabato says. “The goal is to cause no problems for the general election and ride into office on a party wave.”