Here we are. But, why?
Both parties have made fundamental negotiation errors. Allow me to pontificate about a few (I waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore) and offer some purely subjective comments.
- Failure to define the issues: What are the issues? Do we even have an agreement about this? For example, is the issue of who has the power to increase the debt ceiling on the table? If Boehner and Obama have ever agreed to a list of issues, I am unaware of it.
- Boehner has no authority: To have a successful negotiation, his party needs to give him some. Without it, what’s the point? If I were Obama, I would not even meet with him.
- Failing to have a mediator: Considering the stakes, and the history of intransigence between the parties, a Dispute Resolution 101 course director would recommend a mediator.
- Negotiating one-on-one: Herb Cohen says always have a sidekick. That’s good enough for me. Master Negotiators know that sidekicks, co-negotiators, come in handy in a myriad of ways. And, considering Boehner’s lack of authority issues, doesn’t it make more sense to meet in teams of three? You don’t want the teams to be too large, but one-on-one is an error.
- Boehner’s strategic retreat: I love the topic of strategic retreats! Why don’t I read more about this concept in my “theory books”? Far too often do we find ourselves in positions that we cannot hold, which cannot be justified. When this happens a strategic retreat to more solid ground is a great move. Master Negotiators understand this. They also understand that if a General moves his troops to better ground, they need to go with him. Boehner is herding cats. He should have understood this before he announced “Plan B”. That was a blunder, losing credibility and expressing desperation.
- Failure to make incremental steps: I call it the principle of: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: one bite at a time. Stuart Diamond calls it negotiating “incrementally”. Many times, the only way to solve the “PROBLEM” is to break it down into multiple “problems”. No one has done that.
- The deadline: As in so many negotiations, the deadline is not really the deadline. Republicans will not want to take the political heat for raising the taxes on the middle class, especially while the wounds of Newtown are still fresh, and they are trying to defend their 2d Amendment flanks. If we go “over the cliff”, the likelihood of middle class tax relief in January is highly likely.
- Brinksmanship: another concept ripe for embellishing by theorists, psychologists, and cognitive inspectors doing brain imagery of negotiators for fun or profit. Bobby Kennedy said it. Deals get done at the eleventh hour. Why? Could be that this rule only applies in highly competitive negotiations. Regardless, if someone is going to fold in this poker game, it will not be until close to 12/31 – to be expected.
- Reframing “The Cliff”: The cliff is only THE CLIFF if we see it as such. Being the biggest dysfunctional family in the world, we, the people, fail to see reality as it really is: scary but livable.