Magazine article The Christian Century

Negotiating the Presidency

Magazine article The Christian Century

Negotiating the Presidency

Article excerpt

By conviction and temperament, President Obama seeks the middle ground. Though many of his opponents see him as a wild radical, intent on expanding the reach of government at all costs, his actions reveal something quite different: a pragmatist interested in striking a bargain.

For example, he began his health-care reform effort by making deals with the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and he signaled early in the debate that he was willing to sign a bill without a public option--a provision liberals regarded as key to the entire plan. Early in 2010 he started congressional debate on an energy bill by offering conservatives an unexpected gift--expanded offshore drilling for oil and gas. This past month he initiated negotiations on tax cuts, and he made an unexpected deficit-chopping move that should have won him points with Republicans: he proposed a two-year salary freeze for federal employees.

The irony is that this approach has turned out to be a liability. By publicly signaling a willingness to compromise, he emboldens his opponents. His eagerness to negotiate is the sign of a bad negotiator. His distaste for political posturing turns out to be a weak political posture.

Jeswald Salacuse, who teaches international negotiations at Tufts University, says Obama's approach is to assume that his opponents will see his gesture toward compromise and say, "Yeah, you did the right thing, so we're going to do the right thing." Such an assumption is naive, Salacuse argues. In political negotiations, you never give up something without getting something in return. …

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