Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 2003 / 6 Kislev, 5764
Triangulation at its best
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill in 1996, after considerable internal debate, he sealed his reelection victory. The penultimate Republican issue had just become a Democratic president's signature achievement. When President Bush signs the prescription drug benefit bill, he will be similarly empowered.
But the president's opponents have no choice. Just as Democrats who voted against welfare reform now have to scramble to hide their votes as the program succeeds beyond the imagination even of its sponsors, so those who voted against the prescription drug bill will have a lot of explaining to do for years to come.
Triangulation works best when a president solves the problems that animate the other party. He gets two for one. He racks up a big accomplishment, visible to all, and he defangs the opponents by taking away the issues that motivate them to get up in the morning.
Bush's performance on prescription drugs was especially skillful in nabbing the endorsement of AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans.
Widely feared by legislators and long a staple of the Democratic left, AARP's endorsement of the legislation makes any opposition to its terms appear to be just technical quibbling. By going over the heads of the Democratic legislative leaders and negotiating with moderates John Breaux and Max Baucus and with AARP Bush castrated Tom Daschle and the Democrats.
His move is reminiscent of Lee Atwater's strategy of negotiating reapportionment with black and Hispanic leaders going over the heads of their white Democratic political allies. The resulting legislative boundaries led to the election of black congressmen and made the swing districts more Republican by denuding them of minority voters.
AARP, of course, has its own motives for backing the GOP bill. The experimental areas designated for offering private insurance plans to compete with traditional Medicare, anathema to the Democratic orthodoxy, is a potential source of much revenue to the senior citizens' organization. As the largest supplier of Medigap insurance, AARP is well-positioned to provide the alternative plans and to sign up slews of elderly who trust the advocacy group more than they do either the federal government or private insurance companies.
But all the Democrats can do is squirm.
For a while, it looked as if the Republican Party was about to fall, once again, into the Medicare trap and be caught opposing a popular program and insisting on cuts instead or at least curbs on future spending. But the skeleton of Newt Gingrich, hanging in GOP closets, seemed enough to persuade all but a self-righteous few to back the legislation.
Now Bush has a signature domestic achievement that nobody can say is aimed at the rich. It is, instead, focused squarely on the most important swing voter group in America, the elderly. Senior citizens voted for Clinton in 1996 because of his defense of Medicare. In the early polling for the 2000 race, they backed Bush but began to move away from his candidacy, particularly in Florida, as Democratic attacks on the Republican plans for prescription drugs mounted. Now Bush enters the 2004 election with a prospect of growing support from the elderly. To get elected, Democrats depend on the "three E's" elderly, education and environment. Now they will have to make do with only one.
Elsewhere, Bush seems to be preparing well for the '04 election. One hopes and assumes that his plans to turn Iraqi defense over the Iraqis will permit him to withdraw substantial numbers of troops throughout the coming year.
While he should leave a sufficient force in place to assure that Saddam does not return to power, every troop transport that lands back in the United States, bringing soldiers home, will take the issue away from the Democrats.
In 1971 and early 1972, George McGovern could count on antiwar anger to propel his candidacy toward the nomination. But as American troops came home and Kissinger said "peace is at hand" his momentum ebbed just in time for Election Day.
Now Bush seems to be repeating the same move against Howard Dean. This effort, prescription drugs and a good economy suddenly make GOP prospects bright again.
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