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If you are dealing with an adversary that has a long history of negotiating in bad faith, and you want to show that you are going to start fresh, let bygones be bygones, and try to work together with them, you do not start by making a material concession.  

In fact, you do the exact opposite.  

You don't even mention time.  You don't say it's an emergency.  You don't say they need to rush.  Everyone knows that, and you're going to have plenty of opportunity to remind them in about 5 minutes.  You calmly lay out what you want and wait for them to react.  You don't bargain for speed, you don't need to, events will take care of that for you.

You don't have the Democratic side take multiple positions, which accomplishes absolutely nothing except giving Republicans the ability to play one Democratic plan off against the other.  You work out a Democratic consensus plan, and you make it clear that any Democrats that go off the reservation are going to be publicly criticized by the White House.  

You give them the full list.  You tell them what you think is appropriate, not just what you think you can get.  You start by saying:  this is what I want, but if you propose some reasonable changes, I will consider them and may adopt them.  You say, a reasonable change would be pointing out to me a different public infrastructure program to fund, not to eliminate or materially reduce the funding of such programs altogether.  You say, our 85 economists believe that the lesson of the Great Depression was that deficit spending into a deepening recession is proper and essential, and we're not going to do enhanced tax cuts to the wealthy this time around, but we are willing to consider where the money is infused.  You offer to reduce the program from the $1.75 billion to $1.5 billion that many economists, even conservative ones, think more closely describes the amount of the spending shortfall we will see for the next year, and you offer to consider deferring, not eliminating, not half or 2/3, but a moderate portion of, the expenditures for subsequent legislation. You start at the starting line, not where you hope the finish line will be.

Then you step back, you wait, you take the past eight years and put them slightly aside--not in storage, just off to the side, for now--and you give the opposition a chance to, once again, show their colors.  You let the carrot tops peek out of the top of your pockets, but you don't hand the carrots over until they give you a sign that they are willing to stop negotiating in bad faith.  Emergency or not, your starting position is what you actually want, not what you think they will agree to.

The minute they start with the bad faith rhetoric they have been spewing over the past few days--before you make your first material concessions--you go on television and say, I started fresh, the country is going down the drain, and do you know what these people are doing?  They are holding you hostage while you suffer.  I'm here two weeks, and they're already trying to redo last year's election.  Their suggestion is that I do it their way.  Well I'm not doing it their way.  That's why I'm here.  And I'm not backing down just to let them bully me into doing it their way.  I don't think that's why you've elected me.

What would happen next?  I'm not sure, but I think it would be a far cry from where we are now.  I think Obama has boxed himself into the Senate bill, or something close to it, because he is beholden to Specter and Collins now, and there is a point at which they will be able to credibly say "The couple of us that compromised did act in a bipartisan way, and the president is refusing to compromise!", and walk away from the deal.

To make matters even worse, a sort of moral equivalency has now been set up between the House version which is going to be perceived as being pushed from the left, and what the Senate and House Republicans want to do.  Now the people on this blog know that this equivalency is false, that in absolute terms the House Democrats have asked for only moderately more than is in the Senate bill, and the Republicans have been taking positions by any objective measure that are so off-the-wall extreme that there is no equivalency.  But try to explain that to the average American and their eyes begin to gloss over, all they hear are people screaming on both sides while they suffer.  My assumption is that Obama's plan is to join those couple of Republican Senators right in the middle, or very close to it.  But it's a middle that's much further to the right than it might of been, and in my humble opinion that's all because of the way this was started.

To make matters even worse still, this negotiation posture problem will be significantly harder to reverse in the future, because the Republicans understand that if the middle is defined as the sort of "average" of the Democratic and Republican positions, by continuing to take even more and more radically right positions, they will be able to keep moving the middle to the right.

Until bad faith is called out for what it is, this dilemna is only going to get worse and worse, and the Republicans will continue to be unwittingly reinforced for their bad behavior.

Bipartisanship is rewarding good faith with compromise, not compromising in the hope that it will turn bad faith to good.

Originally posted to steve234 on Sun Feb 08, 2009 at 06:49 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  it is my hope that when Obama (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ksingh, dewley notid

    leaves Washington this week to engage with the public, he will call out the bad faith of the Greedy Old Posturers, and the public will side with him.  This may enable the final bill to move more towards the House bill.  Yours is an interesting lesson in negotiation, and we can only hope that some of the damage of this week will be undone outside of Washington.  Tip jar?

    It's okay to love our country again.

    by SottoVoce on Sun Feb 08, 2009 at 06:59:19 AM PST

  •  how are Collins/Specter/Nelson (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    operating in bad faith?

    I vehemently and even angrily disagree with the changes they've proposed, but they still intend to vote for the bill. The problem isn't bad faith, it's rank idiocy.

    With that said, this argument just strikes me as incoherent. What carrots are we offering and how would that be any different from the compromises we're seeing? I think Obama was right to be cautious and not give the Senate an opportunity to shoot down the bill. That would give Collins, etc. a hell of a lot more negotiating power than they have now.

  •  You are right. The political fundamentalists (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ksingh, dewley notid, steve234

    understand that, "by continuing to take even more and more radically right positions, they will be able to keep moving the middle to the right."  This is old news.  I have seen it for more than fifty years.  What worries me is that President Obama either did not see it or he has the unjustified belief that he can reverse it and convert the fundamentallists to some other political religion.

    He is in great danger of squandering a great opportunity to make things better for the mass of Americans.  But he seems to be caught up in some sort of fantasy in which he and Lincoln will be a matched pair as they appear in the history books of the future.

    Lincoln did not convert the political fundamentalists.  He shot them and shot them and shot them until they quit.  But then Lincoln was shot and the political fundamentalists started in all over again.  They have been going strong ever since.

    Obama will never convert anybody from the other side.  He may not be a fool, but he is certainly being foolish.  But as the saying goes, if he keeps on acting foolishly then he might as well be a fool.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning.

    by hestal on Sun Feb 08, 2009 at 07:42:02 AM PST

  •  Right On (0+ / 0-)

    You said it all and said it well.

  •  compelling (0+ / 0-)

    perspective, steve.

    Lithium Cola had a diary with similar core perceptions, back several months ago.(For some weird reason, search is not turning up any link for LC this morning, or I'd connect...damn)

    this problem may be so vast as to be insurmountable, at this point. Our system, with its great promise, also holds the seeds of its own destruction if human egos and the limitations to vision imposed by such are not dialed down in favor of actual wisdom.

    It's a teachable moment, but we in the united states may be the example of how democracy's limitations can erode promise and potential till the only practical remnant: a sad cautionary tale.

    Love is the source, substance and future of all being. --St. Francis

    by ksingh on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 05:03:49 AM PST

    •  Ohhh... (0+ / 0-)

      LithiumCola. no space! here's that diary:

      Here then are the disputants in this argument over what politics is for in the first place.  On the one hand, there are those who think that political argument is best aimed at perfecting a pluralistic society of equal citizens who do not agree on metaphysical questions of purpose and meaning, but nevertheless wish to live together under conditions of amicable cooperation, and on the other hand those who think that political debate is about winning, precisely, the metaphysical argument -- about settling fundamental questions of purpose and meaning on the public stage.


      Love is the source, substance and future of all being. --St. Francis

      by ksingh on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 05:25:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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