Saturday, August 06, 2011

How not to negotiate

Kurt Andersen, in the New York Times:

I had breakfast this week with one of Hollywood’s most ferocious, self-confident and successful doers of deals. He was still steamed about what an unforgivably lousy negotiator his president had been on the debt ceiling agreement.
One particular Obama move he found appalling above all the rest. “There is a provision in our Constitution that speaks to making sure that the United States meets its obligations,” the president had said, referring to Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, “and there have been some suggestions” — by Bill Clinton and various legal scholars — “that a president could use that language to basically ignore that debt ceiling rule.”

According to my Hollywood supernegotiator friend, Obama should’ve stopped right there — or, even better, followed up with that standard ambiguous saber-rattling line: “No option is off the table.” Raising the possibility of unilateral executive action would’ve strengthened his hand against the Republicans. Instead, Mr. Transparent and Reasonable instantly ruled it out in the weakest way possible: “I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

My friend recited the president’s surrender sentence incredulously, slipping an obscene seven-letter gerund in front of lawyers. Since the Republicans were threatening to go nuclear in unprecedented fashion, why didn’t the president at least threaten to use his unprecedented nuclear option to stop them?