I was reflecting today on Californian LGBT friends and allies who traveled or phonebanked to Nevada to work on the Obama campaign during the last election, and who did not work against Prop 8. And I was wondering if those people will be campaigning for Obama in 2012. (Not in an “I-told-you-so” way, btw, but genuinely.) I concluded that many will not, or will be much less enthusiastic about the campaign.
And then I was wondering if Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod were wondering about this, too. If they are, they seem to have come to a different conclusion than I. They have embraced a Clintonian strategy of triangulation for the Obama administration, i.e., adopting Republican policies and themes and making them their own to win over the center, while disavowing and disappointing the left, often purposely. Remember Clinton’s welfare reform, which adopted key elements of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”? Remember Clinton’s denunciation of Sister Souljah? That was Clinton’s Reverend Wright moment.
To me, the Emmanuel and Axelrod approach seems to be a case of misapplied conventional political wisdom. The Obama era is not the Clinton era. Clinton did not ride a wave of youthful idealism into office, like Obama did. Obama will need every bit of that idealism to get reelected. He needs the lefty idealists to vote and to run phone banks and to knock on doors for him. He will not generate that kind of enthusiasm by triangulating on every issue important to the left – whether that issue be DADT or healthcare or climate change or whatever. Obama’s approach will not likely drive his base into the Republican party, but it will drive them into apathy. And that is one thing that Obama cannot afford.
So I ask Axelrod and Emanuel: Who will phonebank for triangulation?