President Barack Obama speaks with Speaker of the House John Boehner during a meeting at the White House in Wash., DC, in this July 23, 2011 file photo. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
The president’s history of negotiations with Republicans has led to the remarkable feet of making Washington DC even more dysfunctional. The president has behaved as if the country is split roughly 80-20 in his favor. Through his negotiations and public pronouncements he has exploited every opportunity where he has had even the slightest advantage. This has led to the Republicans slowly but surely coming to the conclusion that they can’t trust him and almost can’t work with him. This is the man we have just elected for 4 more years.
Politics is like a sporting event, but governing is more like a business. Much like sports, winning by 1 point (or getting 50.6% of the vote in the recent election) gets the victory. After the campaign the dynamics change almost immediately. The winner needs to start working with the party that he just defeated in order to govern. The rare exception to this rule came in 2009 when Mr. Obama was working with a majority in the House, as well as a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate of his own party. This allowed him to govern without regard to the Republican point of view. This situation lasted for 2 years, and the country received Obamacare as a gift from one party rule. The next election in 2010 was historic in sweeping Republicans back into power in the House, and restored the balance that requires governing like a business.
In a company there are always conflicts between competing ideas or departments. It is through the negotiations over these competing ideas that people learn about their ability to deal with those who oppose them. Does the person push every advantage they have or do they realize that a win-win on an idea will help the company? Unless someone is fired over the disagreement, these two parties must figure out how to work with each other. This is not that different from the negotiations that must take place in Washington over completely different ideas of how government should work. This is not new, but the inability of the current president to seek win-win scenarios is.
A perfect example of this is the recent negotiations over the fiscal cliff, which occurred at the beginning of the year. This was a scenario where the president had the most leverage, in that, if nothing was resolved every person who paid taxes was going to see an increase. In the run-up to the final deal there were many ideas floated to cut spending. Replacing the sequester with other cuts, changing the rate of increase for entitlements, means testing Medicare, or raising the eligibility age for Social Security were all possible. The president, however, used the fact that he had all of the leverage, and allowed none of it. He made the Republicans swallow hard on a deal that only contained tax increases, extending unemployment, and with zero cuts in spending. He won.
There is a different dynamic now in place with the sequester. If nothing is done, spending will be cut, so the leverage is now with the Republicans. Has the president acknowledged that he needs to deal with the republicans, and been humbled by his lack of leverage? No. He has decided that he likes it better when the negotiations are winner-take-all, like an election. This is why in recent weeks, rather than negotiating, he has been campaigning. These campaign stops have been just like an election with staged events, human props, and scare tactics. He is doing this even though the most recent election results show that we are roughly a 50-50 country, and his opponents can’t be fired for nearly 2 years.
The president enjoys sports, and as proof we will soon be subjected to the presidential Bracket with the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (a tradition he began). He, however, has almost no experience dealing with coequals in business. He was elected to govern, and he simply can’t do it. To come to this conclusion a little over a month into his second four year term is a bit disconcerting. Years from now, perhaps when the looming debt crisis is upon us, people will look back on this time and say that we should have solved the problem of our mounting debt. Perhaps with the passage of time the people will finally point the finger at this president.