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Dick Morris: Time for triangulation

Greg Nash

Polls show that a majority of all voters would like to see every incumbent defeated — including their own members of the House and Senate.

Sobering news indeed.

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The reason, in my view, is that the politicians are out of step with the electorate. While voters are crying for pragmatism, they get only ideology. When the electorate wants negotiation, Washington offers only confrontation. At a time when the public cares less than ever about party labels, they seem to count for more and more inside the Beltway.

Let’s revisit my theory of triangulation.

At times in our history, voters want polarization to flesh out alternative solutions to new problems and national challenges. Unlike Japan, we use our political process to ask the right and the left what they think. We are impatient with politicians who embrace the conventional wisdom and don’t offer new ideas.

At these times, woe be to the politician who does not stand on his principles. 

Some recent examples:

• In 1948, when the voters wanted true liberalism, not Thomas Dewey’s warmed over modern Republicanism.

• In 1960, when they voted for change and new challenges.

• In 1968, when voters wanted solutions to the war in Vietnam rather than an endless extension of the slaughter.

• In 1976, when they demanded radical change in post-Watergate Washington.

• In 1980, when voters veered sharply to the right.

• In 1984 and 1988, when they rejected the left.

• In 1992, when they wanted new answers to the recession.

• In 2008 and 2012, when voters opted again for the left and rejected the right.

But, because we are not Italy or France, sometimes the debate has run its course, and the voters, like a jury, are ready for a verdict. When that time comes, they are impatient with continued rhetoric and deadlock. They have read the menu of alternatives and are ready to give their order.

Examples include:

• In 1952, when voters opted for internationalism under Ike.

• In 1964, when they had had enough of the civil rights debate and wanted it resolved.

• In 1968, when they voted for an end to the war (never mind what they actually got).

• In 1996, when they grew tired of the debates on welfare, crime, the deficit and other familiar topics and wanted them resolved.

• In 2004, when the country came together in the wake of 9/11 and wanted the anti-terror consensus to prevail.

Now we are at a point where we again want resolution, an end to debate and a melding of polar alternatives. 

We have had enough of debate over ObamaCare. We want its problems to be solved and solved quickly. We want politicians to learn from their mistakes, to skip the social engineering and to compromise on what makes sense. Let’s end the search for utopia and settle for what works. From the left, take the desire to expand coverage. From the right, take the need to let people keep their policies, and take the bells and whistles out of the required coverage. They don’t want mandates or coercion, but they are OK with incentives.

On the deficit and the budget, we have decided that our national debt is strangling our nation and we want it cut. If that means a combination of taxes, cuts and reforms, voters will be for it. From the left, take cuts in loopholes. From the right, take cuts in spending and entitlement reform.

On the economy, voters want an end to excessive regulation, a tempering of the green enthusiasm and a return to pro-growth policies. From the left, take regulation of Wall Street abuses. From the right, take an end to hobbling business with global warming obsessions.

For entitlement reform, eliminate bold plans for rejiggering Medicare or Social Security. But do enact curbs in benefits, including cuts to those given to wealthy people.

In short, heed the advice of Thomas Jefferson: “We are all Federalists. We are all Republicans.”

Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.