Triangulation and Realignment
Jude Wanniski
November 17, 2000


How much does it really matter who wins this election? To truly understand the partisan standoff in both the executive and legislative branches, we have to remember how President Bill Clinton ran into a brick wall in 1994 and what he did about it. After the first two years of his presidency, he was stunned when the national electorate severely punished him and his party for his performance thus far. They took away his Democratic Congress and gave it to the Republicans. Even though the GOP made a mess of its mandate, with Newt Gingrich acting as if he had been elected President, the voters would not give Congress back to the Democrats. To win re-election in 1996, the President turned to Dick Morris, a politically ambidextrous strategist who worked for either party, and Morris taught him how to “triangulate.” In essence, Morris told Clinton to agree with 90% of what the GOP was asking, but remain slightly to its left. Giddy with power, Newt moved further and further rightward, Clinton shadowing him along the way. Clinton won re-election as the electorate found in him the most reasonable position when Newt walked off the edge by closing down the government.

Observing this success, George W. Bush decided that he, too, could triangulate. The concept of “compassionate conservatism” allowed him the flexibility to move closer and closer to the Gore/Democratic political view, remaining slightly to its right. Picture an “X” marked with chalk on the national political stage, with Bush and Gore pushing and shoving to stand on it, and you can see how they managed to produce a perfect knife-edge conclusion. This is why we should not be terribly concerned how the final vote comes out. I would personally recommend Bush, but that is only because I have the vague hope that his scrape with defeat would lead him to seek better advice on how to manage the national and world economy. His choice of former Fed Governor Larry Lindsey as chief economic advisor during the campaign I found particularly unsettling. Lindsey is a close friend of former President George Bush’s chief economic advisor, Michael Boskin, who in turn is a tennis partner of Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who is Gore’s chief economic advisor. It was Boskin who got President Bush to install Summers a decade ago as the chief economist at the World Bank. There is not one genuine supply-sider I know of who is in regular contact with George W., which is why the Bush tax program was never associated with growth arguments in the campaign. The Gore and Bush economists also are standing atop the same “X.”

Consider the most extreme positions of either candidate. Albert Gore is unshakable in his belief in man-made global warming. He wants to shut down carbon dioxide emissions to save Mother Earth. The idea is as dubious as that of the John Birchers 40 years ago who opposed fluoridation of our drinking water -- on the grounds that it was a statist plot to put funny chemicals in our brains. Did you hear George W. Bush contest Gore on global warming in this campaign? No, he triangulated, expressing “concern,” mainly about the Kyoto Treaty’s provisions on how different nations would have to deal with global warming. Had he tackled Gore’s basic assumption about Earth in the Balance, the electorate might have been treated to a genuine debate from two candidates on either side of the stage. Instead, Bush huddled next to Gore on the “X.”

What is Bush’s equivalent at the extreme? It is the preposterous idea that the United States should have a national missile defense system to shield it against non-existent ICBMs in a world at peace. Yes, the public opinion polls have indicated most people would answer “yes” to a question about whether they would like to be protected against a rogue nation’s ICBM, if it is built some day. However, if you asked voters on a national bond issue if they would spend several hundred billion dollars to shield against a North Korean rocket attack on the Aleutian Islands, with the caveat that it might not work anyway, you surely would get a more considered opinion. What did the voters hear in the campaign from Gore, about Bush’s embrace of this really dopey idea? His position was not entirely clear, except that he might think things over before he unilaterally broke the ABM Treaty with Moscow. If Gore had ridiculed the idea as he could have, arguing perhaps for a realistic mobile fleet defense at a fraction of the cost of a national land-based shield, we would have had a genuine debate involving issues touching upon our relationships with Europe -- and with Russia and China. Instead, Gore chose to cuddle up next to Bush on the “X.”

Where is the national press corps on these truly dopey ideas? It has no choice but to line up behind its chosen candidates and their chosen focus groups. The New York Times sides with Gore on global warming and overlooks the propaganda plays being made by politically tainted “scientists” who rush out an overheated “draft report” on election’s eve. The Wall Street Journal sides with Bush’s ABM as the military-industrial complex drools over those zillion-dollar contracts. They are team players.

In foreign policy generally, it now is easy to see Bush and Gore approaching outstanding problems with little difference. Until Bush added Dick Cheney to the ticket, it was more likely that a Bush administration would be quicker on the trigger than a Gore administration. But Cheney as Vice President would be able to bolster Colin Powell at State in more creative use of diplomacy than I would expect from the rest of the Bush team or that Madeleine Albright has shown. The widespread expectation that current U.N. Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, would be Gore’s Secretary of State is reassuring on that same score, as Holbrooke is a pure diplomat who is not opposed to force, but looks upon its use as the failure of skillful diplomacy.

Then there is race. If there is going to be a political realignment to bring an end to this senseless triangulating, it cannot happen unless the GOP successfully competes for the Black vote. It is for this reason that over the last several years I have been putting so much of my personal attention and energy into defending Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. The national electorate, I believe, wishes to replace the creaky coalition first created by Franklin Roosevelt and patched together in recent decades with chewing gum and bailing wire. Our political leaders are not getting that message. Of all the black political leaders in the United States, the one who is most empathetic to the core economic, religious, and cultural issues and ideas of the GOP is Min. Farrakhan. If he were an anti-Semitic bigot, as he is portrayed, I of course would have nothing to do with him. He is cast as such because he is a Black Muslim and refuses to stand on the “X” that has been chalked on our political stage by the Jewish POLITICAL establishment out of its protectiveness of the state of Israel. On this issue, there is no greater homogeneity in the two major parties. Fear of Jewish political retribution keeps the entire political establishment, including the major media, from straying even an inch from that “X.”

My simple logic thus informs me if there is to be political realignment, the prerequisite is a reconciliation between the NOI and the Jewish community. All other obvious Black political leaders are tied down by the Democrats -- and by Jewish political leaders nervous about realignment because they fear it might cause a loss of support for Israel’s interests. While we await the count of the Florida absentee ballots, it would not surprise me if Israeli Americans with dual citizenship throw the vote to Gore, putting an even more laser-like spotlight on this predicament. I have made a nuisance of myself on this issue not because I want Republicans to win elections, but because the parties have to be realigned in a way that can produce genuine bipartisanship in managing our own affairs and those of the world. In my 64 years, I have been a Democrat and I have been a Republican, and I am constantly amazed at how little the two parties attempt to learn about each other in order to be in a position to compromise.

Partisan Democrats now are furious at Ralph Nader for perhaps “costing” them the presidency, when all Nader did was to refuse to stand on the “X” with Bush and Gore. Nader voters almost certainly helped Democrats pick up seats in the House and Senate, though, bringing out voters who otherwise would not have bothered to vote “X.” Buchanan did not have the same effect on GOP thinking, but it now is becoming agonizingly clear to Republicans that if George W. Bush loses this election, it will be because he totally blew the Black vote. First reports indicate he got 9% of the Black vote. This may be the smallest percentage a GOP presidential nominee received from the Black electorate since Lincoln freed the slaves.

Here, we can say that Gore deserves enormous credit for choosing Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. Not only is Lieberman a perfect triangulation, the closest Democratic Senator to the Republican economic AND cultural agenda. He also is an orthodox Jew. It was Lieberman who, just out of the box, announced that he “respected” Louis Farrakhan and that he would be happy to meet with him. There was a lot of noise from the Jewish political crowd, taking nibbling bites out of Lieberman, but they shushed up when they realized it was a strategic move. It wasn’t a mistake. You surely have not read about it, because the national press cannot deal with this kind of event, but Lieberman did meet with Leonard Muhammad, the NOI chief-of-staff and Farrakhan’s son-in-law. A photo of the two of them shaking hands ran in The Final Call, NOI’s weekly, as well as the Jewish weekly Forward -- both of which I subscribe to.

The Farrakhan/Lieberman meeting did not take place prior to the election. It would have if the Bush campaign had decided to push a simple pawn on the chessboard -- by saying Dick Cheney also would meet with Farrakhan. Once Lieberman broke the ice, saying fellow Jews whom he respects had told him that Farrakhan was not the man he has been portrayed as being, Cheney easily could have followed without fear of retribution. It did not happen. Bush earlier this year said he would include the Nation of Islam on his list of “faith-based institutions” that should be eligible to participate in federal programs for the poor. When the Jewish pols went after Bush for this simple gesture of reconciliation, Bush quickly recanted. When Dick Cheney was asked what he thought of Lieberman’s gesture of “respect,” he said he did not agree. Gore’s strategists then could sit back and gloat.

Democrats insisted the Republican National Convention was “a minstrel show,” with white folks in black face, feigning inclusiveness. They said there would be no policy change to back it up and there was not. Bush had no program to save Social Security and Medicare, except to take 10% of the SS funds and give it to rich and poor alike to invest on Wall Street. His program for education was to give school vouchers to rich and poor alike, also viewed by Blacks as a risky reduction of resources to the public schools on which they must rely. When Gore jumped on these initiatives to scare the Democratic base, he succeeded. Bush spent lots of money telling voters they should not be scared, but still got only 9% of the Black vote. When Bush/Cheney shunned Farrakhan, the Democratic chess players also won their gamble. Lieberman could tell the NOI he would like to put off his meeting until after the elections. I was suspicious he was playing games as he had in the past -- in switching sides on the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court and voting against Clinton’s impeachment after condemning his behavior on the Senate floor. But he insisted to Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" that he would meet without any of the preconditions demanded by the Jewish political leaders. That was a breakthrough noted throughout the Black community’s national leadership!

When 50 million people vote for Gore and 50 million people vote for Bush, we cannot expect much difference in the impact this event will have on the financial markets. There are market declines now as the process gets more and more mired in the courts, not, we think, because of market preferences between Bush and Gore. All delays undermine chances of a bipartisan agreement on the budget and tax cuts that will be taken up by the lame-duck session of Congress on December 5. The voters never would choose a candidate who promises economic decline through support of bad economic ideas. The political marketplace is no less efficient than the economic marketplace.

President George Bush was elected in 1988 because he made “read my lips” promises on economic policies that the voters took at face value. Because he broke his promise, Clinton won election and re-election by careful maneuvering on economic policy, with the help of Dick Morris and Alan Greenspan. The only correlation we see on why the equity markets are taking one step forward, two steps back in recent months is the deflationary drag of $265 gold on nominal corporate earnings in the dollar realm. It is by far the biggest problem in the world and it should be easiest for the Republicans to manage. This is because the GOP has the highest concentration of gold advocates, including Ronald Reagan’s Fed appointee, Alan Greenspan, and the WSJournal editorial page. But gold is not anywhere near the “X” where candidates are allowed to “debate.” Larry Lindsey and Larry Summers are interchangeable.

The biggest technical problem facing the United States? It is of course the demographic bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare. Has the issue been debated in this national political campaign? Not at all, except that Al Gore scared the elderly and minorities about George Bush’s “plan” to put 10% of the revenues into private investments. The real answer to the problem is to increase the amount of capital in the hands of the average American worker by 50%, but if you ask Larry Lindsey or Larry Summers how to do that, they each will tell you, as any good Keynesian would, that you must increase the “savings” of the American people by 50%. But because they really don’t know how to do that, in a politically acceptable way, they agree not to discuss it.

This will be the last “X” election for a long time, I think. Now that the two political parties and their presidential candidates have produced an almost perfect equilibrium, they will see power going to the party that differentiates itself relative to the other party, with the mid-term elections of 2002 already staring both in the face. Once we have triangulated to dead center, the only alternative is realignment.