Network vs. cluster politiciansPosted: 12/10/2010
David Brooks writes today about the criticism that President Obama has received this week, from Paul Krugman and countless others, over the tax compromise that he made with the GOP. Brooks defines the President as a ‘Network’ liberal, and his liberal critics as ‘Cluster’ liberals:
“Cluster liberals (like cluster conservatives) view politics as a battle between implacable opponents. As a result, they believe victory is achieved through maximum unity. Psychologically, they tend to value loyalty and solidarity. They tend to angle toward situations in which philosophical lines are clearly drawn and partisan might can be bluntly applied. Network liberals share the same goals and emerge from the same movement. But they tend to believe — the nation being as diverse as it is and the Constitution saying what it does — that politics is a complex jockeying of ideas and interests. They believe progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. Psychologically, network liberals are comfortable with weak ties; they are comfortable building relationships with people they disagree with. This contrast is not between lefties and moderates. It’s a contrast between different theories of how politics is done. Ted Kennedy was a network liberal, willing to stray from his preferences in negotiation with George W. Bush or John McCain. Most House Democrats, by contrast, are cluster liberals. They come from safe seats, have a poor feel for the wider electorate and work in an institution where politics is a war of all against all.”
Brooks is trapped in the fuzzy center, with the vanishing moderates. His analysis of the political climate today is crystal clear, and he is exactly right, the President did achieve a victory with this tax compromise. The problem with politicians that give no quarter is that the major problems we face demand compromise and cooperation. The President wants to tackle comprehensive tax reform in the Spring; progress on that difficult issue will be hindered by cluster politicians. The main reasons I originally became a supporter of the President, after his 2004 Convention speech, were that I saw a Great Communicator in the mold of Reagan, and a network politician willing to work across the aisle. This is the perfect opportunity for the President to play to his strengths.
With the 2012 election approaching, Paul Krugman is right about one thing: many Republicans will be working to sabotage the President because they think that will deliver the White House to the GOP. The problem with the GOP game plan is that the American people will not stand for two years of stalemate. GOP opposition to the Health Bill for 9/11 workers is the perfect case in point.