Democrats face an existential moment.
(Image courtesy of the NYTimes)
Imagine that you are a political strategist tasked with developing positions for Democratic Party candidates. And imagine that you are facing an historically challenging mid-term election (2022) when 500+ seats are in play. And a Democratic President with a low approval rating.
‘What’ is the sub-terrain of the current infrastructure/reconciliation negotiations between Progressive and Moderate factions within the Democratic Party. The Progressive Caucus, a panoply of men/women of color and the ‘moderate Liberals,’ mostly white. An obsessive vote-counting party leadership trying to set priorities and communicate progress (happy face here) to an expectant and exasperated public. A knee jerk, reactive-prone media, frustrated with reporting on the snail’s pace process of forging a “passable” $4.5 T legislative package.
It’s a toxic mix for sane folk.
And yet here we are.
But in this process of “corralling” political “talking points” around a trenchant theme to summon voter support, you keep butting heads against “triangulation politics,”
In politics, triangulation is a strategy associated with U.S. president Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The politician presents a position as being above or between the left and right sides (or “wings”) of a democratic political spectrum. It involves adopting for oneself some of the ideas of one’s political opponent. The logic behind it is that it both takes credit for the opponent’s ideas, and insulates the triangulator from attacks on that particular issue.
Essentially, a short cut to ready-made voter appeal. Not to a vision but to a constructed reality.
So your additional task is to dispel this short cut before getting down to path clearing.
‘Triangulation politics’ is in the way:
“To push back on education polarization, Shor believes that Democrats should talk less about issues of racial justice and immigration — which, he argues, have pushed non-college voters, especially whites, away from the Democratic Party — and align their message with the economic priorities of the non-college majority…(quoting Ezra Klein) The chain of logic is this: Democrats are on the edge of an electoral abyss. To avoid it they need to win states that lean Republican…
“The Democrat who broke the party’s presidential losing streak, Bill Clinton took these recommendations. He spoke about the party’s most popular policies while also taking every opportunity to show that he was not, and would not be, beholden to the interests of Black Americans.”
Shor’s summary advice: ‘Avoid talking about race and immigration.’ The primary takeaway from Shor’s analysis is two-fold:
1.Example of triangulation politics.
2.Obscures the real challenge before Democrats:
A class/race divide has ratcheted up in urgency, contending for our collective attention with an emerging inequality/climate divide.
Think of a four chambered organ, like a heart.
And each compartment has a label:
Metaphorically your job as political navigator is to provide medical assistance in keeping these four chambers synchronized.
The ‘recipe’ is your bucket of political strategies for the party’s victory in 2022 and 2024.
Chambers 1 and 2
The race/class divide: the electorate is divided along race and class. ‘White fears’ vs. black interests.
Takeaway: Blue collar meets BLM.
Chambers 3 and 4
The inequality/climate divide: the electorate is divided along fears of scarcity and restoration. Scarcity fears vs. inclusion interests:
Takeaway: ‘My space’ meets planet survival.
Among many examples from the graveyard of triangulation politics are two: In the 2016 campaign finale, HRC didn’t go to labor-legacy rich Wisconsin. She lost to Trump in Wisconsin. To the voters of other Midwestern states HRC preached ‘inclusion.’ HRC assumed the white blue collar vote. HRC assumed pro-immigration bias, not it’s opposite. HRC lost the key Midwestern states needed to win: Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan.
Is this inclusion?
In the 2022 strategy rooms, Clinton family campaign advisor James Carville is targeting ‘law and order’ voter fears.
“Carville’s take on language usage- ‘Democrats speak Hebrew when they should be speaking Yiddish’-masks a disdain for community advocacy among other things. His prescription for the Democrats in 2022 is to take ‘law and order’ off the Republican ‘talking-point-list-as political-platform.’ Drilling down the nation’s social inequalities to ‘law and order,’ will return the Democratic Party to Clinton years.” (cite)
Is this listening?
Opinion writer Jamelle Bouie also has some advice for Democrat strategists:
“To me, it seems as if they (Shor, Klein) are talking around the issue rather than being upfront about the path they want to take. There is a template for the kind of politics they want to see from Democratic candidates, and if it isn’t the “Third Way” of Bill Clinton, then they should say what it is.”
Triangulation politics says you don’t have to ‘show up’ because you’ve set the decision space, you’ve touched the nerve, you’ve found the spine running through the American body politic, you’ve uncovered the electoral zeitgeist.’
You just have to raise money.
Or is it that all you’ve accomplished is just reduce expectancy?