Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Politics and Negotiation

It's ironic that some of President Obama's fair weather supporters, who have been critical of his supposedly poor negotiating skills in prior dealings with Congress, are now applauding the president for his tough talk against the Republicans on the new jobs bill and on the administration's new deficit plan. In the situations the administration has been criticized for, they actually concluded some successful negotiations and got landmark legislation passed: e.g., the debt ceiling deal, the health care act, the financial regulation act, the stimulus. A lot of people have second-guessed the president's negotiating strategies in getting those deals made, but nobody has been able to prove that a different strategy in any of those cases would have resulted in better deals, from the left's point of view. It's possible, on the other hand, that a more aggressive strategy might have killed some of those deals.

The president's critics from the left don't seem to care about that. They also don't seem to notice that the tough stance they are now cheering him for so far hasn't resulted in any kind of deal at all. And it doesn't even seem likely that Congress is going to enact the president's jobs plan, or his deficit plan, in anything like the form he is demanding, even if people across the country rise up en masse and demand passage. The Republican-controlled House will more likely pass some bills quite different from the administration's plan, and those might not come to pass either, if President Obama sticks to his threat to veto proposals that do not include some revenue increases.

So how can the administration be bad negotiators in the cases where they got deals done, and good negotiators when we don't yet know whether they will get anything at all done? It seems that the critics on the left aren't really talking about negotiation at all, at least negotiation as that term is commonly defined. (I would define negotiation as a peaceful effort to get parties with different interests to come to an agreement that serves the needs of  both sides.) The left doesn't want a negotiation. What they want to see is a fight.

It's also ironic that some on the left saw the president's prior efforts to forge bi-partisan agreements as driven by political considerations. White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer explained to the New York Times that this perception could not be more wrong:
The popular narrative is that we sought compromise in a quixotic quest for independent votes. We sought out compromise because a failure to get funding of the government last spring and then an extension of the debt ceiling in August would have been very bad for the economy and for the country. We were in a position of legislative compromise by necessity. That phase is behind us.
That phase is behind us. Exactly. Now, as I posted a few days ago, we are in a new phase where making an agreement is not the primary consideration. Strangely, the president's critics from the right seem to understand the reasons for the administration's recent shift in strategy better than critics from the left. For example, I saw Senator McCain being interviewed on TV tonight complaining that the president's jobs bill is just the opening phase in a political campaign. He could have a point there. Certainly the president's recent and continuing barnstorming tours of the American countryside to talk up the jobs plan do seem to resemble a political campaign.

So while elements of the left have things completely backwards, saying the new tough talk is a good way of getting things done, while the prior deal-making phase was just a wrong-headed political effort, the right seems to have a much better understanding of how threatening (to them) both phases of the president's strategy have been. In the first, the administration nailed down a host of impressive achievements that will send the country in a different direction for years to come. And in the current phase, the president seems to be embarked on a populist crusade against a right wing Congress that only serves the rich. This phase may not accomplish much of anything substantive--except for firing up the base and bringing back enough moderates to the president's camp to get him re-elected. 


1 comment:

  1. The political extremes are so out of control; so hypocritical; they have lost credibity. I don't think they care. The goal is power; like an alcoholic seeking alcohol; they are no longer servicing America; only their addiction.

    I think they think the rest of us are either disinterested or too simple minded to see through this charade. I wish they could feel how angry the rest of us are at them.

    Lie-la-lie ....

    "The Boxer"

    "Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest."

    Paul Simon

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