Wednesday, December 08, 2010

You don't negotiate with terrorists

You don't negotiate with Terrorists
        (Thanks to for the cartoon.)

In yesterday's news conference, President Obama defended his deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts at all income levels, including the richest 2% of Americans. He said "I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage  gets harmed...In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed."

Unfortunately, this is the wrong approach.

We've all seen this on TV, or in the news. Some high profile terrorist action requires negotiation, and the government says "we don't negotiate with terrorists." It can be  heartbreaking, and infuriating, but it's necessary in the long run. The reasoning behind this approach is that to negotiate merely proves to the terrorists that their tactics work, will get results. If you don't even begin to negotiate with them they have no hope of getting what they want.

The Bush tax cuts were only passed ten years ago because Republicans promised to let them expire - you know, just in case the tax cuts failed to stimulate the economy or create jobs. (News flash: They didn't.)  Now that the tax cuts are scheduled to expire, the Republicans are clamoring for their continuation, calling it a 'tax hike' if they end. (Clever bit of verbal jiu jitsu, that. It's what the Republicans are known for. Regardless of what you think of their
positions you have to admire their tenacity, not to mention the verbal gymnastics and contortions they can achieve to support them.)

To further this end, the Republicans have forced the Democrats into a game of chicken with the American economy. Never mind that it's our car they're driving, there's going to be a crash of some sort. Now it's a game where the first one to blink loses. Neither party can
escape this game; thus, the only option is to play to win. It's more than a simple political calculation, however; it's a moral one; this is a fight for what is right for the American people.

President Obama, however, decided to capitulate shortly after the game of chicken began. Since this is a test of will, plain and simple, the Republicans will win because they're far more stubborn and ideological than all too many of their Democratic counterparts. The Democrats -  as they must - look to their president, their party leader, their driver. When he swerves to avoid a collision he instantly loses the game. In this case, 'losing the game' means borrowing billions more from foreign countries to give tax breaks to the rich who neither need nor deserve it, tax breaks which will neither stimulate the economy nor generate jobs, tax breaks that add billions to the deficit for no good reason.

In an argument between a reasonable man and a stubborn ideologue, the latter will always win. The simple fact is the ideologue will never admit to being wrong, no matter what the facts say. President Obama is the reasonable man in this scenario. Sadly, he has let his commendable desire for reason and rationality get run down by the Party of No, who look very likely to score another win for the rich and powerful.

Most tragically, a win for the Republicans here signals that this tactic works. Taking hostages means you'll get to negotiate, and from a position of strength.  The next time they want something they'll just take something else hostage. It may be some pet project or
bill the president wants, or maybe they'll threaten to stop all legislative activity altogether, in a characteristically juvenile game of 'take my ball and go home.' Oh wait, they've already done

President Obama's capitulation on this issue just ends up rewarding bad behavior and encourages more of it in the future. The American people will suffer greatly as a result.

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