Monday, August 01, 2011

"An agreement in our time"


President Obama needs to add Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People to his reading list -- because since taking office in January 2009, he has done neither very well. One way not to win at negotiating is by working ass backwards -- in other words, focusing on avoiding the worst possible outcome instead of offering up the best. When Obama went on television last night to announce a deal was finalized to raise the debt ceiling, it was like he said "That was one tough negotiation, but hey, at least they didn't kill us." For weeks, Obama and the Democratic leadership have cowered in the corner, afraid that the Teabaggers would pull the trigger and cause the financial dominoes to fall over the globe. With that defensive posture went any chance of compromise. It was a rock 'em, sock 'em boxing match fixed before the first punch was thrown.


Rule 1 of negotiation: don't use your end point as the starting point. You don't start with trillions in cuts! Start with trillions in both revenues and stimulus, then negotiate down to some sort of midpoint -- and it might not be the midpoint you want -- but it won't be the low end. Rule 2 of negotiation (as told by Golda Meir): do not negotiate with terrorists. When you see the other side is a bunch of ignorant sociopaths bent on burning the village to save the village, do NOT be afraid to threaten. The 14th Amendment should have been Obama's Entebbe.

Instead, this capitulation will be his Munich.


The Republicans knew exactly what they were doing and that Obama would fold even if he held four aces. It has become very obvious to everyone (except the White House) that this president lacks any vision. A man with some of the most extraordinary oratorical skills in decades cannot see the forest for the weeds. He is simply too afraid and too professorial to think boldly and brazenly. A vision cannot exist unless you are willing to fight for it. George W. Bush had a vision (be it a warped and evil one, but he had one) and he fought for it (or at least Cheney pulled the strings for it). Bush's folly in Iraq got the lifeline it needed, a surge in military power, when #43 had a 28% approval rating and a Democratic Congress.

You have to be willing to look bad to look good, you have to be willing to be wrong to end up being right, you have to be willing to fail to succeed. Time and time again, Barack Obama has shown he does not want to risk looking bad to anyone, even to an opposition dedicated to destroying his presidency.

The final chapter of the Obama presidency was likely written yesterday. Obama looks bad, veered wrong, and has disappointed his supporters. As for failing, it is America that has failed, not Obama.

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