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Will Obama Triangulate?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Now that President Obama has experienced the same baptism of fire as Bill Clinton did in the midterm elections, the obvious question is whether he will move to the center in a bid to save his presidency and win re-election. The move worked well for President Clinton, as he sought to combine the best aspects of each party's program in a third approach that came to be known as triangulation. Will Obama follow suit?

He won't because -- even if he wanted to -- he can't.

The issues today are very different from those that separated the parties in 1994 and do not lend themselves to common ground. Obama's programs during his first two years in office have been so radical, far reaching and fundamental that any compromise leaves the nation so far to the left of where it has always been and wants to be as to make it unacceptable to the American people. It is as if a woman who wants no children is asked to become "a little bit pregnant."

When Obama took office, the federal, state and local governments controlled 35 percent of the American economy. We ranked 15th among the two dozen advanced countries. Now it controls 44.7 percent, ranking us seventh, ahead of Germany and Britain. So where is the compromise? Are we to raise taxes and cut spending so that government is only, say, 40 percent of our economy?

To raise taxes to cover even a part of that increase would be to lock in a level of big government that is anathema to our free enterprise system. You cannot have a free market economy with a government that big sitting in the middle of your economy, hoarding capital, pouncing on all available credit, taking away such a major portion of your national income.

While negotiation is always possible on spending cuts, raising or lowering them or redirecting their focus, the bottom line of sharp deficit reduction is not up for discussion. Both parties are locked into the need to bring down the debt before it strangles our economy. With this imperative in mind, a zero tax increase policy will require budget cuts that Obama and the left will find unacceptable. For them, the slashes in social spending will also preclude a search for middle ground.

And what is the triangulation that is possible on health care? The fundamental building block of the Obama program is the individual mandate to buy insurance. Without that requirement, all that is left is a consumer protection bill that limits insurance company practices. How can the mandate be scaled back but still preserved? Would it suffice to lower the fines the uninsured must pay? Or to reduce the requirements of how much insurance they have to carry? Neither of these proposals would satisfy the American people. Either the mandate is in place or it is not. There is no middle ground.

On cap and trade, the other major pillar of Obama's secular temple, either we tax carbon or we don't. The left will deride and the international environmental community reject any program without coercion or tax increases (even though the evidence suggests that voluntary measures are bringing down our carbon emissions nicely). Once again, faced with a choice between a tax and no tax, there is no middle ground.

The conservatives have America in their corner on all of these issues. We can easily see how far Obama has moved off the center of gravity of the American people by measuring his losses in the House of Representatives. If conservatives stick to their principles and pass their programs in the House, they will set forth an agenda that the nation can follow. If they compromise to suit Obama's big government objectives, they will muddy the waters, antagonize their energetic base and provide no clear alternative to his socialism. It is time for bold and clear contrasts. It's not 1994.

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