Independent's Eye by Joe Gandelman
If Bill Clinton sticks his head up and there's a shadow, there's two years of compromise.
OOPS! Sorry! Not "compromise" "“ two years of "common ground."
On "60 Minutes" incoming House Majority John Boehner made it clear he doesn't seek something as reprehensible or sleazy as "compromise" but does seek "common ground." So just add "compromise" to the list of words made inoperative for political or marketing reasons, where you use a word that means the same thing but sounds different. You know: "progressive" for "liberal," "pre-owned cars" for "used cars" -- "enhanced pat down" for "feel up."
But Bill Clinton did indeed stick his head up at the White House after meeting with President Barack Obama -- and he cast a long media and political shadow.
It came on a day when Vermont's self-proclaimed Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders conducted an unofficial Senate filibuster rant against Obama's tax cut extension compromise "¦I mean"¦common ground agreement"¦with Republicans. Sanders threatened to suck up too much political oxygen and dominate the weekend news cycle. Liberal bloggers and tweeters who felt Obama "caved" to the GOP went wild. Sanders became almost as much a folk hero as the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy. His seemingly unending comments started gaining traction in the mainstream media.
Until Clinton spoke. Clinton was introduced by Obama, who said he was late in meeting his wife and bowed out, leaving Clinton alone to talk to reporters. The pundits went wild. Why, wouldn't this hurt Obama's image? Didn't it make Obama look weak? Wasn't Obama in effect giving back the White House back to Bill Clinton? Why, this was unprecedented!!
It was a classic case of how in the media saying nothing is perceived as worse than saying something d-u-m-b.
A better question would have been: Was this all mere political optics? And the likely answer? No.
Immediately after Obama's victory many analysts predicted that a) Obama could have a problem with his party's left, b) the Democratic left could pressure him to act in ways where he could lose some of the center, c) he might have to battle his party's liberal base to get back to the center. These predictions came true. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party started to resemble a gang "jump in" with Dems brutally battering Obama and each other.
Enter the ever-popular Clinton, embracing compromise. And there are signs Obama could use a Clinton veer-center model. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the compromise tax package. A Bloomberg poll finds that voters by a 3 to 2 margin would not support another government shut down (Republicans beware).
So the seeds of an Obama recovery are in capturing the center. Indeed, the quickest way for Barack Obama to become a one-term President is to make Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow his campaign strategists. He'd wind up with as many votes as their ratings share.
Clinton operated during a time of economic growth and plenty. Obama operates during a time of plenty of economic problems. Clinton came to office with a wealth of political experience. Obama came to office with a wealth of self-confidence.
The jury is still out on whether Barack Obama and his political team have even a thimbleful of the political smarts that Clinton and his political team had. If Obama has been playing hardball Chicago politics then he came from a neighborhood where it resembled patty cake. If Obama were a poker player he'd be taking out a loan on the White House to pay for his massive losses.
The big question today isn't whether Obama needs to move to the center (he does), or whether he's trying to move to the center (he is).
It's whether this Velcro President has the political smarts to pull it off.
The jury is still out on that.
And at least one member of the jury is skeptically raising his eyebrow..
Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN's John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at mavenproductions.com.
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