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How tax cut revolt helps Obama: It's a page from Clinton playbook

Perhaps President Obama's tax-cut deal with the GOP was astute, after all. While he angered liberals, he also won back some independent support – an example of Clintonian 'triangulation.'

By Staff writer / December 10, 2010

President Obama looks on as former President Bill Clinton speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington Friday about the tax deal struck between Obama and Republicans.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

Former President Clinton’s impromptu press conference in the White House briefing room Friday – in which he announced his support of President Obama’s tax-cut deal with the Republicans – could not have put in sharper relief the new political landscape in Washington.

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Sixteen years ago, Mr. Clinton was in the same situation Mr. Obama finds himself in today: the Democratic majority in Congress swept out of power, and the need to rethink how policy is formed. For Clinton, the answer was “triangulation,” the practice of meeting Republicans part-way, often to the chagrin of Democrats.

Obama already appears to be getting the hang of it. This week’s crackup between Obama and his liberal base over a tax-cut deal he reached with the Republicans seemed poised to threaten Obama’s support among the progressive grassroots, whose energy and donations he will need to win reelection. But just as easily, it opens him up to a second look from independents and moderates who abandoned the Democrats in the midterms and whose support he needs if he wants a second term.

Thus, an alternate analysis is emerging. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls the tax deal “the swindle of the year” – and it’s Obama who came out on top, a point that House Democrats don’t even get, he says. The combination of tax cuts and spending increases will pump nearly $1 trillion into the economy over the next two years, more than the GOP-reviled stimulus package of 2009. That two-year period coincides neatly with Obama’s 2012 reelection effort.

“At great cost that will have to be paid after this newest free lunch, the package will add as much as 1 percent to GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points,” Mr. Krauthammer writes. “That could easily be the difference between victory and defeat in 2012.”

Indeed, Democratic pollster Peter Hart points to the unemployment rate – currently at 9.8 percent ­– as the top indicator of Obama’s chances at reelection.

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