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November 09, 2012

John Boehner, Weakstick

There are certain hard and fast rules in negotiating, and if you don't know those, you can't do it. I'm not saying John Boehner isn't a nice, intelligent man. But he is risky business adverse, even when it's not that risky. Some people are just like that. Some people would rather buy a Saturn, where you go in and pay the price--where you don't have to negotiate with the salesman. (That was one of the selling points of the Saturn; you paid a set price, no haggling.) A lot of people just don't like the pressure of negotiating, even when it doesn't hurt. They're not wired that way.

Remember last week when it seemed like Romney would win? Harry Reid put down his marker immediately: "I just can't work with Romney." Now, that's not necessarily true, but that's what you do in a tough negotiation; you stake out a tough position. You prep the battlefield. You take the hardest-line posture and then work back from there.

What did John Boehner do after the election? He talked immediately about raising revenue. "[T]he American people expect us to find common ground, we are willing to accept some additional revenues, via tax reform." See the difference? Reid knows how to deal.

Speaker Boehner should have matched Harry Reid: "President Obama is too extreme, and unless he's willing to finally give a little and bring a plan to the table, I don't see how anything will change." Although that's not necessarily true, that's what you would say. Then you would work back from the hardline ground that you've occupied.

Speaker Boehner did the same thing in July of 2011 when he blurted out in an interview, to paraphrase, "Oh, no, we won't shut down the government." Whether or not that was true, it's not something he should have said out loud.

In The Godfather Don Corleone gets angry with Santino when he speaks out of turn during a negotiation: "You never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again!" Speaker Boehner's natural impulse is to be honest. That isn't always helpful at the beginning of a negotiation.

This is one area where Donald Trump speaks with authority. He's fond of saying, from memory, "The right guy can get the deal. You can send one guy in who can't get anything done and then send in another guy with the same deal and he can get the deal. The only difference is the guy you sent in."

Here's another contrast: Remember Ronald Reagan's first meeting with Gorbachev at Reykjavik? Reagan blew Gorbachev out of his chair in the first minutes of the first day. He put a stranglehold on the hardliner ground and put Gorbachev on the defensive. Gorbachev shot back, "Mr. President, I am not a student, you are not a teacher." Well, as soon as Gorbachev said that, Ronald Reagan was the teacher. It was over. The proper response was to try to reclaim the hardline ground.

It's just posturing, but it's effective. Ronald Reagan was a master negotiator. He had the natural ability plus all those years as president of SAG and dealing with Hollywood lawyers. Gorbachev didn't stand a chance.

One last contrast: Obama is not a negotiator either, but he does have people who do know what they're doing. He pwned the hardliner ground today. Ace has already written about it: Give Me My Tax Hikes On Those Making $250,000 Or More Right Now, Before Anything Else, As a Show of Good Faith. Does Obama appear to be "seeking common ground" here? No, of course not. As with the Harry Reid and Ronald Reagan examples above, it's just starting point for negotiating. But it's what you do.

Why must we sound conciliatory while they never do? Granted, we're not going to get a headline from the New York Times that says "If Harry Reid is trying to seem conciliatory, he’s not doing a great job of it." But that shouldn't dictate our approach. Take the hardline stance and work back from there. Be conciliatory at the end, not at the beginning.

All this is to say Boehner has to go. I like him, and he's a good man, but he has been out of his depth with Reid, and Pelosi, and the White House. High stakes deal-making is not something he is well-suited for. It comes naturally to some people. To others, it does not.

Coffee is for closers (NSFW).

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posted by rdbrewer at 04:02 PM

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